Sacha Baron Cohen's new show pretty much marketed itself when people like Sarah Palin came forward to admit they had been duped by the comedian before the first episode even aired. Who Is America? is Baron Cohen's latest character-based project, and this time he's using an array of disguises to trick prominent political figures, unsuspecting (mainly) conservative voices, and sometimes just downright oblivious victims into compromising situations — or, in the case of the first episode, into just straight-up admitting to the problematic views they already held.
Former Senate majority leader Trent Lott and current Republican California congressman Dana Rohrabacher are among the people who came forward in support of arming children with guns in perhaps the most damning segment of the episode. While some participants, like conservative host Joe Walsh, later took to social media to walk back on how they were depicted, the damage has already been done. Many people praised the show for the problems it's exposing in America, but the credits of the show expose one it hadn't intended.
There are no women writers on Who Is America?. None are listed in the credits following the first episode, nor on its IMDb page. Refinery29 has reached out to Showtime to ask if this changes in later episodes. However, as many outlets have pointed out, the list of writers does include Kurt Metzger, a disgraced Inside Amy Schumer writer who has been known to harass women, criticise rape victims, and reportedly said Rihanna "deserved" what happened to her because she was attracted to Chris Brown. Statements like that certainly paint the episode's joke about spousal rape in a new light.
"It’s not rape if it’s your wife," Baron Cohen says to laughs from executive director emeritus of Gun Owners of America, Larry Pratt.
Of course, this is just another successful attempt by Cohen to trick the subjects into admitting their horrifying beliefs, but I'm not comfortable with it coming from a room of men, one of whom reportedly admitted to choking his ex-girlfriend. How do you write a show critiquing the problems of America while omitting the perspective of an entire demographic that's been nothing but vocal about their American problems? It's worth noting that Baron Cohen, per IMDb, has never shared a writing credit with a woman.
In 2017, 2.6 million women across the world marched in protest of Donald Trump's inauguration, specifically due to his sexist rhetoric and the reproductive restrictions he and his administration threatened to impose. Women have continued to fight for their rights, all the way through the #MeToo movement and into this year's Women's March, for which the number remained in the millions. Concerns ranged from sexual assault to equal pay to abortion, as well as the way these problems play out across different races. This is arguably one of the biggest movements of the past two years. Are we going to see it on screen?
Showtime did not return our request for comment about whether or not Who Is America? will be tackling any of the many issues women face in the US, but there really wouldn't be a good answer. Either a group of men — once again, one of whom claimed to be "pro-rape" — is going to use the same nuance they brought to the "Man Paints With His Own Shit" character to the complex and sensitive issue of sexual assault, or they're not going to address women's issues at all, which demonstrates a purposeful ignorance of a huge part of American culture.
In all this effort to bring attention to the hard-to-swallow truths in the underbellies of American patriotism, Who Is America? unknowingly puts its own self under scrutiny. For all the effort Baron Cohen's new show dedicates to amplifying these problems, it hasn't (yet) done anything to solve them.