Sacha Baron Cohen tries to punk Washington


Actor Sacha Baron Cohen, in character from his upcoming film "The Dictator". (Kieth Bedford/Reuters)

Invitations have been arriving in mailboxes around Washington for an event that might raise eyebrows even in this invite-overloaded town.

Below an image of the flag of Zimbabwe, the script on the thick-stock paper reads: “President Robert Mugabe and the Ministry of Education, Sport, Art, and Culture invite you to the Premiere of The Dictator.”

That’s the new Sacha Baron Cohen movie in which the funnyman portrays a despot who rules over the fictional African nation of Wadiya. The name alone probably raised a red flag for savvy recipients, who recalled Cohen’s previous antics: He attempted to seduce Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) in the movie “Bruno,” and fed cheese to former Rep. Bob Barr — and later informed the Georgia Republican it was made from breast milk — in “Borat”.

The movie screening purportedly takes place at the Presidential Residence in Zimbabwe on May 12. Realistic specifics, like a note at the bottom directing attendees to to “the Southeast Entrance” of the residence, might convince recipients that it’s a bona fide event.

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 patched through to the minister’s office. “I’m sure it didn’t come through our ministry,” we were informed.

The Zimbabwe embassy in Washington similarly pronounced it false. “We know nothing of this event,” the embassy spokesman said.

It seems that the film screening is a hoax, the kind of publicity stunt that Cohen has perfected.

He pulled a high-profile prank at the Academy Awards in which 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.

We hear the invite has reached various media, lobbying, and association types around town. But we weren’t able to immediately reach a rep from Paramount, the studio releasing the flick.

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Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.

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