MOSCOW – "Borat" may be banned in Russia.
A government agency said it would refuse to grant permission for Sacha Baron Cohen's controversial comedy "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" to be shown in theaters in neighboring Russia, its distributor here said Thursday.
The Federal Agency for Culture and Cinematography said the film could offend some viewers and contained material that "might seem disparaging in relation to certain ethnic groups and religions," according to Vadim Ivanov, theatrical sales director at Twentieth Century Fox C.I.S.
Ivanov said he hoped the agency would relent and that the film will premiere in Russia as scheduled on Nov. 30. "Borat" was the top movie in the United States in its debut last weekend, pulling in $26.5 million.
The agency informed the company in a letter that it would not grant the permission required to show the film in theaters, but later said the decision was not official, Ivanov noted. "This story is not over," he said.
Ivanov said he was unaware of an instance in which Russian authorities have banned a non-pornographic movie. Officials at the government agency did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.
The raucous, satiric "Borat" pokes fun at Americans through the guise of Cohen's Kazakh TV journalist character he originated on TV in his "Da Ali G Show." The spoof documentary follows Cohen's Borat on a cross-country trip to report back to his homeland on American culture.
The character suggests Kazakhs drink horse urine, view prostitution, rape and incest as respectable, and are openly anti-Semitic.
Russia has close political ties with Kazakhstan, whose officials — and citizens — have seethed at the depiction of their country.
The move comes as Kremlin critics accuse President Vladimir Putin's government of restricting freedoms and tightening control over society. Amid a growing wave of extreme nationalism and hate crimes, it appears to reflect efforts by Russian authorities — long accused of turning a blind eye — to show that they are cracking down on intolerance.