BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – Kathie Martin will never forget the 20 minutes she spent at the Tutwiler Hotel in Birmingham on October 25, 2005.
Martin, who has run the Etiquette School of Birmingham since 2003, had been asked to be part of a documentary involving a nameless foreign reporter learning about American customs. Little did she know, she would be taking part in the first “Borat” movie.
“Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm,” the sequel to the 2006 hit comedy, will be released on Amazon Prime Friday, bringing back the namesake character from Kazakhstan made famous by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen.
While the first film ultimately raked in over $260 million worldwide, not everyone was laughing, especially Martin.
In the movie, Cohen’s character asks Martin about how to conduct himself at a dinner party. One part of the exchange involved him showing a picture of a man’s genitalia to her.
“It was ridiculous what he did and I had to act as if I was trying to help him,” Martin said. “It was just misleading and not a good experience.”
In a subsequent scene at the Magnolia House in Birmingham, “Borat” makes sexualized comments about the women gathered at the dinner, used an offensive term for a mentally disabled person, and held a bag suggested to be human feces.
“I think the whole intention was to prey [on] people’s prejudices and make it funny rather than any showing respect,” she said.
Martin said that prior to the scene, the producers for the film had reached out to her, explaining they were making a documentary about America that would be shown in Belarus. Initially, the scene was scheduled to be shot at Martin’s home. She said that at the time, Cohen had not arrived and cameras were being set up inside the house.
However, she said things took a turn when members of the production learned that her 8-year-old daughter was at home.
“They saw her and my husband was there as well,” she said. “One of the men said ‘I didn’t know your daughter would be here’ and I said she would be upstairs. He then said ‘I need to go outside and call my assistant.”
Martin said that after making a quick call, the production member said that Cohen’s character, whom Martin was not told about, would not be able to come. She said she was then asked if there was a time she could come to their hotel room at the Tutwiler to film the segment.
“I should’ve sensed something was wrong,” she said.
Martin said that before filming at the Tutwiler, she was asked to sign a release form agreeing to be filmed. From there, she met Cohen, who was already dressed as “Borat,” although she was not given his name at the time.
“I thought he looked a little strange and he was wearing makeup,” she said.
It wasn’t until Martin left the Tutwiler and was talking to her husband on the phone about what happened that she found out who Cohen was.
“I described him and my husband said ‘I think that’s Borat,’” she said. “He looked it up, described it to me and by the time I got back to the office, he sent me pictures.”
For a time, Martin didn’t know where her filmed segment would show up. It wasn’t until after “Borat” was in theaters did she realize what the whole segment was about.
“The way I found out was a gentleman stuck his head in my office and said ‘I just saw you in a movie,’” she said. “And immediately, I figured out what it was.”
Martin eventually sued Cohen and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp, the film studio behind distributing “Borat,” claiming she was exploited and had been asked to be in the film under false pretenses.
“Mrs. Martin was not given any true information about the filming,” the initial lawsuit from December 2006 stated. “Instead, through fraud and deceit, Defendants hijacked Mrs. Martin’s name, image, likeness and goodwill and used them in an R-rated blockbuster movie without permission.”
The suit eventually made its way to the Alabama Supreme Court, who ruled that because of the agreement Martin signed, any disputes had to be heard in New York. The case was later dismissed.
Martin said that from time to time, people at her etiquette school ask if that was her in “Borat.” Ultimately, she said that while she is all for having a sense of humor, it shouldn’t be at the expense of others.
“I think I fared better than others in the movie,” she said. “My heart goes out to them.”
She said that if there was one thing she learned from the experience, it reinforced what she already knew: the importance of treating others with kindness and compassion.
“I think especially in today’s climate, kindness is really important, whether it is someone who is culturally different from you, or someone’s different experiences,” she said.
Needless to say, Martin said she would likely not watch the “Borat” sequel.