SACHA Baron Cohen’s publicity stunts have made news headlines and turned his movies into box office hits.
A day after addressing a news conference in New York as his new character, Admiral General Shabazz Aladeen, the leader of the North African country of Wadiya, invites went out to the United States media on Tuesday for a special screening of The Dictator – in Zimbabwe.
Cohen – star of Ali G, Borat and Bruno – appears to have now roped in President Robert Mugabe in his publicity blitz ahead of the movie’s release in the United States this weekend.
The self-styled chair of a dictators’ union called the International Alliance of Constitutional Dictatorships (IACD) appears to have fooled a few newspapers into following up on a press release announcing the Zimbabwe premiere.
The Washington Post was one of the newspapers. It says an invite arrived on thick-stock paper bearing an image of the Zimbabwe flag below which was the message: “President Robert Mugabe and the Ministry of Education, Sport, Art, and Culture invite you to the Premiere of The Dictator.”
The invite said the screening would be at 8PM on May 12 at the Presidential Residence in Borrowdale Brooke, Harare.
Realistic specifics, like a note at the bottom directing attendees to “the Southeast Entrance” of the residence, might convince recipients that it’s a bona fide event.
It certainly got the Post curious enough to call the RSVP numbers provided for Lazarus Dokora – Zimbabwe’s real life Deputy Education Minister.
“We called the number provided, and actually reached Zimbabwe’s art ministry. Confusion ensued — no one there had heard of the movie or its premiere — and we were passed through to the minister’s office,” the newspaper reported.
A spokesman for the ministry said the invite “didn’t come through our ministry” and the Zimbabwe embassy in Washington similarly pronounced it false. “We know nothing of this event,” the embassy spokesman said.
The Holywood Prospectus blog was left wondering: “How come Baron Cohen went with Mugabe to troll? Is Kim Jong-un not experienced enough? Is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad not powerful enough? Is Alexander Lukashenko too obscure?”
In The Dictator, the funnyman portrays a despot who rules over the fictional African nation of Wadiya.
To promote The Dictator, Cohen pulled a high-profile prank at the Oscars when he appeared on the red carpet in character, flanked by leggy female bodyguards and toting an urn he said held the ashes of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il.
The actor “accidentally” spilled the remains (later revealed to be pancake mix) onto the Armani tux of E! host Ryan Seacrest.
General Aladeen claimed recently that the BBC had banned coverage of his new film, stating: "While I am a huge admirer of state-sponsored censorship, the BBC banning me from their meagre channels is an outrage.”
THE DICTATOR: OFFICIAL TRAILER
GENERAL ALADEEN N.Y. PRESS CONFERENCE