The town of Kingman, Arizona is up at arms after controversial British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen shed its citizens in an awful light during a recent episode of his new show, Who Is America?
The show, which is intended as a political satire, had Cohen posing as Dr. Nira Cain-N’Degeocello, a fabricated liberal arts college gender studies professor. He then went to a town hall meeting in Kingman, where he proposed that the city construct the world’s largest mosque outside of the Middle East, claiming that the structure would pay dividends through tourism.
The residents shown in the town hall were not happy; one man makes an association between mosques and terrorism, another assets that it will undoubtedly cause conflict within the community, and someone even argues that they shouldn’t stir the pot more because relations are already tense between Caucasians and African Americans in Kingman. Then there was the man who flatly stated, “You bring Muslims, we’ll have problems. I’m a racist. I’m a racist towards Muslims.”
Sacha Baron Cohen made an Arizona town seem racist. The Kingman mayor is taking it seriously. https://t.co/6oHdESkyTL— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) July 26, 2018
According to a US Census Bureau estimate taken last year, Kingman has a population around 29,000. About 89% of those people identified as only white, 11% Hispanic, and only 1% African American. That means there are only 290 African Americans in Kingman, up from only 36 in 1990.
In one of the more intense moments of Who Is America’s Kingman episode, one man explains that the town as a whole is not ready for such radical change, asserting that it’s “lucky to have black people in it.” When Cohen retorts, “Of course you’re lucky to have black people, they add a lot to society,” another man interjects. “He’s saying there are black people in Kingman who aren’t welcome, either. But we tolerate them.”
Are people like him the majority or minority in Kingman? That’s difficult to discern, but it is interesting to examine the language used in some of the city’s responses to the fiasco.
City Of Kingman, Arizona Responds To Baiting & Big Mistakes By Sacha Baron Cohen’s Very Lowly Rated Who Is America?— City of Kingman (@CityofKingman) July 24, 2018
“Every city has resident voices that challenge respect and dignity for others. They are wrong and… https://t.co/jAMmN1RDoK
In a public post made just days after the episode aired, the City of Kingman official Facebook page lambasted Cohen and his show for portraying the town in a falsely negative light. The post points out that Kingman has “African-Americans applying for leadership positions with the city,” and that their “City Manager will be bringing to the City Council a resolution in support of National Hispanic Heritage Month,” beginning in September.
Is the implication that there are currently zero African Americans currently in leadership positions in Kingman? And that prior to this debacle, they were unable to reach a resolution to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month?
The post also touts their “inten(tion) to invite” Phoenix Pastor Warren Stewart to help them properly observe Martin Luther King Day next January. Wow, sounds like they’re making moves…
Sacha Baron Cohen's Mosque Prank Misleading and False, Says Kingman, AZ Mayor https://t.co/4b452rVnNg— TMZ (@TMZ) July 26, 2018
Kingman is my hometown. It's as bad as it looks on the show. I've been calling out it's racism since I can remember & people still hate me because of it.— Val Santos (@ValSantosOnAir) July 23, 2018
In an interview with TMZ, Kingman mayor Monica Gates maintains that the episode wasn’t shot in the city, and claims she doesn’t recognize anyone featured in the clip, much like how the city’s Facebook post said that ‘numerous’ members of the crowd weren’t residents without explanation of how that was determined.
According to TMZ: “As for the people in the room NOT being legit Kingman residents? Some of the people who got duped sounded off afterward, and we checked the names that were public–they DO live there.”
Kingman Visitor Center's response to your #WhoIsAmerica segment @SachaBaronCohen & my q's abt how they plan to make their town more welcoming to ppl of color. They allege the Kingman group was "bussed in" & falsely seem to think we have to accept racism bc of the First Amendment. pic.twitter.com/wQZ8Syt4wY— Jo Kaur (@SikhFeminist) July 24, 2018
Then there was the Kingman Visitor Center’s since-deleted Twitter response to the episode, in which they said that “the American way is to accept that all have freedom of speech, even extremists bussed to a focus group to spill unsavory dialogue for the sake of television,” and then proceeded to lay down an FDR quote about the First Amendment.
One must wonder if the officials of Kingman sought inspiration from the current White House administration in all of their responses to the mess; not one of the statements reads as a proper apology, and they’re all filled with a tone of resentment that they got called out, as well as attempts to sidestep the at hand and point fingers at the ‘radical’ people who made this a problem in the first place.
Obviously, most people in Kingman are likely not bigots with hate in their hearts, but there is clearly an undercurrent of discontent. And if uncovering this seething minority in a small town, and maybe America as a whole was Sacha Baron Cohen’s goal, then it seems he succeeded. What do you think? Do you agree or disagree?