8 movies that caused diplomatic incidents

Published by Alex Nelson

If someone made a film about two journalists plotting to assassinate you, you’d be pretty irked right? Well, imagine if you were Kim Jong-Un, power mad despot and ‘Supreme Leader’ of North Korea. The annoyance would be tenfold.

Yet that’s exactly what James Franco and Seth Rogen have done with their new movie The Interview, and when the trailer hit the internet last week, the Dear Leader got wind of it pretty quickly. Needless to say, he wasn’t happy, and went on to denounce the film as a “blatant act of terrorism and war”.

Hollywood has a habit of poking fun at others; this isn’t the first film to invoke the diplomatic wrath of a country, and it probably won’t be the last. Alex Nelson takes a look at eight other movies which have stirred the pot overseas. Read it now before World War III breaks out…

Borat
[Borat: a poor advert for Kazakhstan, or was he?]

300 (2006)

300 is very obviously a fictionalised story that just happens to be set within the very real era of the Greek Persian wars. Still, the overstylised cinematography and directorial flair of Zack Snyder failed to win over the hearts of Iranian government officials upon the film’s release.

Scenes in the film depicting demon-like creatures as part of the Persian army stirred up much controversy, as did Rodrigo Santoro’s supposedly effeminate depiction of Persian King Xerxes I. While it was argued this depiction was meant to highlight the hyper-masculinity of the Spartan army, the film was still banned as “hurtful American propoganda”.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)

Perpetual prankster Sacha Baron Cohen reprised the role of Borat Sagdiyev – the bumbling Kazakhstani journalist made famous as part of Da Ali G Show – for this smash-hit comedy, and offended just about everyone along the way. The film was naturally banned in Kazakhstan for fairly obvious reasons, portraying as it does Kazakhstanis as ignorant and incestuous.

The film has since been declared to have put Kazakhstan on the map however, with Foreign Minister Yerzhan Kazykhanov saying: “I am grateful to Borat for helping attract tourists to Kazakhstan.” The number of visas issued by the country has increased ten times over since the film’s release.

Alexander (2004)

Oliver Stone’s epic historical drama may have been a forgettable swords and sandals affair, but to a group of 25 Greek lawyers it wasn’t forgotten in a hurry. They threatened legal action against Warner Bros. for the film’s depiction of Alexander the Great’s sexuality. “We are not saying that we are against gays,” opened Yannis Varnakos’ statement worryingly, “but we are saying that the production company should make it clear to the audience that this film is pure fiction.”

Worldwide criticisms forced Stone to make cuts to the film, with DVD covers branding the shortened version as “faster paced, more action-packed”.

Zoolander (2001)

An innocent comedy that perfectly sends up the absurdities of the fashion world can’t be controversial, can it?

Apparently it can. Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson’s hilarious pastiche of the modelling world found itself in hot water with the Malaysian government, after the film’s depiction of the country implied it was impoverished and economically reliant on sweatshops. “Definitely unsuitable”, was the censorship board’s final verdict.

Argo (2012)

Argo tells the story of a CIA agent launching an operation to rescue six Americans in Tehran during the U.S. hostage crisis, under the cover of a Hollywood producer scouting a location for a science fiction film.

Any film set during troubled political times is going to be heavily scrutinised by the opposing party, and in this case Iran had many a bone to pick with Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning thriller.

They argued that the film offered an “unbalanced depiction of an entire ethnic national group,” didn’t portray cabinet ministers as being as sympathetic as they were in the historical accounts, and even went so far as to say the film’s release at a low point in American-Iranian relations was in bad taste.

Add into that the furore Ben Affleck’s casting as Mexican-American Tony Mendez, and you have a real pressure cooker of controversy.

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999)

The South Park movie took aim at prominent cultural groups and figures, and fired off satirical potshots in a way that only creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker could.

But a film that promoted Saddam Hussein as the homosexual lover of Satan was hardly going to sit well with the highly oppressive dictator, was it? That’s why South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut was immediately banned in Iraq.

The Dictator (2012)

Sacha Baron Cohen makes his second appearance in our list (and to be fair, Bruno could also have easily made the cut) for his depiction of Admiral General Aladeen, the dictator of the fictional Republic of Wadiya. Standard fare for Cohen, who enraged just about everybody who saw the movie, which was banned in Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, described as “unlikely” to be shown in Turkmenistan, and shortened to 71 minutes by censorship in Uzbekistan.

A particularly racy scene involving Megan Fox making reference to her relations with “the Italian Prime Minister” was even edited in Italy to avoid reference to Silvio Berlusconi and his questionable track record…

2012 (2009)

To round off our list, we’ll head back to the country that inspired the whole thing in the first place: North Korea!

2012 was the 100th anniversary of the birth of nation founder Kim Il-Sung. As such, it was designated as “the year for opening the grand gates to becoming a rising superpower”, and any media portraying the year in a negative light was subsequently banned. 2012 depicts the year in a very bad light – what with the world dramatically ending and all – and so Roland Emmerich’s disaster spectacular quickly fell to the wrath of the North Korean regime.

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Alex is an aspiring music journalist studying at the University of Huddersfield

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