Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

 You are in:  Talking Point
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Monday, 25 March, 2002, 10:31 GMT
Is Ali G racist?
Spoof character Ali G's new film has opened to a mixed response in London's West End.

Ali G, played by white comic Sacha Baron Cohen, is renowned for offering former MP Neil Hamilton a joint, an ill-judged BBC Radio 1 appearance and appearing in a Madonna video.

A group from Untold magazine, which has a high number of black readers, jeered arriving guests and complained the film, Ali G In Da House, was racist and should be boycotted.

The character Ali G has been accused by some sections of the black community as racist, because he adopts elements of black youth culture.

Has Ali G taken the joke too far? Is it time for Sacha Baron Cohen to move on to new ground?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

To be honest I do find Ali G offensive, the fact of the matter is that because he's from Oxbridge he gets away with it because an educated man could never be a racist. Frankly I find his brand of humour condescending to the youth of today who may very well aspire to achieve well in life and are instead shown that it's much easier to do as Sacha Baron Cohen has done and impersonate various ethnic groups in a vague attempt at comedy.

What annoys me even more about Mr. Cohen is the pathetic way he has avoided the media whilst under his own persona in case he is confronted by a sensible question as to whether he believes that the Ali G character has added to the widely held belief by adolescent lads that street crime and gang culture is something to aspire to.
Ibrahim Al-Timimi, UK

Ali G is up there with Alan Partridge as one of the best comic characters of the last 10 years

Ian, England
Easy Now, Ali G is up there with Alan Partridge as one of the best comic characters of the last 10 years I can't believe what some of you lot have been saying get a sense of humour and grow up. Respect innit,
Ian, England

This has all the hallmarks of a comedian trying to milk his last few quid from a character that ceased to be funny months, if not years, ago. Racist? Probably not. Boring, repetitive, tired and unimaginative? Certainly.
Dougal McKinnon, UK

I'm an African and thumbs up to Ali G. There are other worse things going on in the world today and so I say to all those frustrated people out there "the man is making us laugh...if you don't like it, don't watch".
Abu, Denmark

As a student living in Birmingham who went to see Ali G last night, and I must say that I've never seen so many people from different ethnic backgrounds laughing about the same thing. Was it crude? - yes, was it funny? - absolutely hilarious! Although the film is a comedy, Ali G does bring up issues of ethics as Ali has to save his local leisure centre, the result being that all the rival posses join together to form one 'massive' and save Staines. A thoroughly entertaining film from start to finish.
Greg Robson, England

Ali G makes people question what constitutes racism

Jim, UK
The whole point of Ali G as a character is that he makes people question what constitutes racism. Why should black groups be offended when he is, in effect, ridiculing white youths who wish to imitate black street culture? Surely these white youths should be up in arms? Without trying too hard, he has made a complete mockery of the whole politically correct brigade because they can't decide whether or not it is politically correct to accuse a Jew of racism. The outrage over the film is exactly what Cohen was looking for. Anyone who is that offended has obviously failed to realise that the point of the character is to upset narrow-minded, stuck-up, officious people with no sense of humour.
Jim, UK

It is actually encouraging youngsters to come up with homophobic and other offensive comments under the guise of supposedly subversive comedy

Tim, London
The original Ali G concept was intended to be a satirical portrayal of British white/Asian black wannabes. It has now gone way beyond that and is actually encouraging youngsters to come up with homophobic and other offensive comments under the guise of supposedly subversive comedy. Cohen should recognise that and kill off the character, but I suspect it's become far too lucrative for artistic integrity to come into play.
Tim, London

People have forgotten what humour is. Lighten up!! I thought British humour was about poking fun at yourself a bit.
William B Clarke, UK

Yus thinking I am racist yeah? I is simply taking the proverbial out of the way that the massive hang and their use of the slang in the street, innit. Me was not trying to offend the brotherhood, I give dem nuff respect. BOOYAKASHA to all ya brothers... RESPECT!
It's Da Ali G imself, innit, Staines 'course. Respect to the massive.

I don't see what all the fuss is about. People are getting the wrong end of the stick. Behind his exterior is an intelligent university graduate and his comedy appeals to the majority of our youth, and in many ways it brings all races together. Come on, just look at how much stick us Paddys get!
Jeni, Ireland

I'm black, Ali G made me laugh to begin with but as his slot extended from five minutes, to half an hour, to the film length now, it's basically got less clever and so less funny every step of the way. But no, I disagree with the politicians saying Sacha Baron Cohen is either being racist or glamorising black gangster chic - they imply that guns weren't being used in black communities like Moss Side five years before Ali G was created.
Ken, UK

The only racism here comes from the suggestion that black youth culture is not a legitimate target for observational satire

Brendan Fernandes, UK
The only racism here comes from the suggestion that black youth culture is not a legitimate target for observational satire. Whilst I agree that racist ideas are not funny, Cohen's comedy is based around behaviour rather than race, and as such is funny, realistic and inoffensive to all except perhaps those he satirises - which raises the question: if you really do behave like Ali G, you must surely expect people to poke fun at you! There are plenty of black people who are not in the least offended by Ali G because they do not behave like that!
Brendan Fernandes, UK

What next? - Mr Blobby is actually a racist metaphor for Euro-Asian assimilation? He is, after all pink with yellow spots! Get real!
Graeme, UK (Scotland)

I'm in my late 20s I think the geezer is well funny...he makes fun out of everyone and everything from the NHS to the Beckhams. He just chooses a slightly different platform to do it from. I thought Father Ted was one of the funniest shows in years, it made fun of every aspect of Irish culture and coming from that culture myself I haven't met one Irish person who was offended by the show.
Jason, U.K

Cohen, a white man pretends to be black. Is this racist? Lenny Henry, a black man, has poked fun at white stereotypes for years. Is this racist? OF COURSE NOT! The whole debate about Ali G trivialises the real issues around racism and xenophobia in the UK.
John, England

Iz it coz 'e iz white?
Fraser, Essex, England

People who claim Ali G is a racist caricature have, I'm afraid, completely missed the point

John Kearney, UK
People who claim Ali G is a racist caricature have, I'm afraid, completely missed the point.
The character, and let us not forget that "he" is just a character and not a person, is a caricature of those who aspire to certain aspects of modern culture (many of them from black culture) while completely failing to understand them. The funniest thing about Ali G is his insistence that he is black, and the willingness to accept this on the part of some of his audience and interviewees, despite the fact that he is clearly not.
John Kearney, UK

As has been said here, Ali G is a satire - it is a very observant view of modern youth society. It takes 'street cool' to the limits, mocking people's desire to be like their offensive role models. Don't be fooled - Sacha is extremely intelligent, very fast, and not stupid enough to put himself on the block. If people have real concerns, there should be an open forum, hosted by Cohen, and we'll see who puts across the best argument!
Chris, London, UK

Whatever it is he is sending up, it's become embarrasingly dull and a reflection of his shallow talent. Monty Python came up with about 10 new characters every week, Sasha Cohen can't manage two in five years!
Dave, England

It is political correctness gone mad

James Kerr, England
I think Ali G is a caricature and is not intended to be racist. Comedians like Richard Blackwood seem to think that Cohen's creation is an affront to the black community, but I think he holds a double standard. If one witnesses the acts by Blackwood, he tells plenty of 'white people' jokes, yet he is scornful to any cultural comedy based on his own background. I think it is political correctness gone mad.
James Kerr, England

Banal and unfunny, yes. Racist NO. Some people just seem to look for offence.
Gerry, Scotland

What he is and what he does is neither funny or amusing, he is just a crude lout who is making a lot of money out by appealing to the impressionable youngsters in this country who don't know any better.
Peter Walker, UK

I take offence to Peter Walker's comments that Ali G is subject only to the young and 'those who don't know any better'. Has he heard of opinions? I have watched some very intellectual debates which study his work and he has been called a comic genius by some. I wouldn't agree with that, but he's certainly funny.
Andy Croxall, UK

No. He satirises white or Asian youths who dream of being black and affect a black vernacular. Black is cool whereas one's own skin colour is not. C'mon, what's the problem? Save your anger for real racism.
Randy, UK

Some people just may have had a sense of humour by-pass

Colin Wright, UK
Some people just may have had a sense of humour by-pass. Ali G is a humorous look at the culture adopted by some youth: black, Asian and white in Britain today. Particularly in certain inner city areas, it's humour and in my experience the people it's based on generally find it pretty funny themselves. But some people will always be offended by any sort of parody, they should really just develop a better sense of humour.
Colin Wright, UK

Think it the other way; if some black comedian adopted some elements from white youth culture and would be accused of racism, what would that sound? Unbelievable, of course, just as this claim. No need to be over-sensitive.
Peter, Finland

I totally agree with Peter from Finland; if this were turned around it wouldn't be a problem. Ali G is hilarious! There is nothing racist whatsoever in what he does - it's just a laugh! Stop looking into things too much and take Ali G as he is meant to be taken - a comedian.
Vanessa Brown, Wales

How precious is society becoming? Everyone knows who the real targets of his humour are, the suburb dwelling white teens who are so ashamed of their own culture that they try and mimic someone else's. But is it time for him to move on? Yes, it's getting a bit boring, but was quite funny when it started. I always preferred Borat anyway.
Matt, Amsterdam, Netherlands (ex. UK)

oh please...
If the public are deliberately trying NOT to see that Sacha Baron is pushing the boundaries then they are fools. Ali G is hysterical. Right at the very beginning he was funny and the general observation was 'well he has done all that he can' as his character was outrageous. So now he is pushing the limits. Britain is a buttoned-up country. That is EXACTLY why the British public loved Hamilton, Gail Porter, The Beckhams and Al Fayed interviewed by Mr Controversial. That is why we all laughed our socks off when Gail Porter was made to look silly on the radio.
He is a character, Cohen will stop him before he goes that step too far. Three cheers for Ali G!
Mel, UK

See also:

20 Mar 02 | Film
Ali G keeps it royal
20 Mar 02 | Reviews
Ali G keeps it real
18 Feb 02 | TV and Radio
Radio 1 apologises for Ali G outburst
18 Jan 00 | Entertainment
Hamilton 'shared joint' with Ali G
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Talking Point stories