A Fake PAC, a Pro-Trump Rally and an (Eventually) Angry Mob: How the Oscar-Shortlisted "Wuhan Flu" Song From 'Borat 2' Came Together

Sacha Baron Cohen Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Everett

Writer, producer and regular Sacha Baron Cohen collaborator Anthony Hines lifts the insane lid on the extraordinary and comical lengths the film's team had to go to for Borat to get on stage at a pro-gun rally to sing about injecting Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Anthony Fauci with COVID-19.

Of all the original song contenders in the Academy’s long musical history, only one has required the creation of a PAC (Political Action Committee) for its solitary onscreen performance, a performance that saw angry and armed members of a right-wing militia storm the stage and force its singer to flee for safety.

Naturally, the singer in question was Sacha Baron Cohen.

"Wuhan Flu" from Borat Subsequent Moviefilm may well have some of the most impressively incendiary lyrics ever submitted for Oscars contention (among its toe-tapping zingers are "Obama, what we gonna do? / Inject him with the Wuhan Flu," and "Journalists, what we gonna do? / Chop 'em up like the Saudis do"). But — like most things Baron Cohen — it’s the super-secretive, painstakingly crafted, behind-the-scenes making-of element that demands the loudest applause.

As part of the film’s story, which was being written and rewritten during the chaotic production in mid-2020, Borat was to track down his daughter, Tutar, played by Maria Bakalova, at an anti-lockdown rally in America. But moving into the summer, such events began to die down, forcing producers to search for an alternative. They eventually found the pro-gun March for Our Rights Rally taking place in Olympia, Washington, on June 27 and organized by a right-wing group calling themselves the Washington State Three-Percenters.

According to writer-producer and longtime Baron Cohen collaborator Anthony Hines, the rally turned out to be "more militia-y and more right wing-y" than they'd initially anticipated. "Had we known exactly what it was going to be at the time, we might have thought twice," he admits.

Originally, the plan was for a Kazakhstani twist on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s Child Catcher scene, in which Borat would lure Tutar into a wagon with the promise of free onions. "And then the sides would fall off and it’d be a cage and they’d drive off with the trapped daughter," says Hines. This soon segued into a "Borat spectacle" and an idea of him addressing the crowd with a "very pro-Trump speech." Then Hines and Baron Cohen recalled one of their fondest Borat memories: writing the infamously antisemitic "Throw the Jew Down the Well" song for the original Da Ali G Show series. They decided it had to be a musical performance.

But there was an issue: the rally didn’t have a stage. For a movie production that convinced Rudy Giuliani to appear on camera by creating a fake film company and cutting together a sizzle reel of a fake documentary called Keeping America Alive: How Trump Defeated COVID, there was only one possible option.

"We actually formed a kind of very Republican PAC, with an anonymous Republican donor who was looking to fund pro-Trump rallies," says Hines. "And we told the organizers: we’re really into your rally, we’re really into your message and want to support you in any way we can and make this a bigger event than you have planned. For example, we can pay for a stage, and we’ll book some musical acts to perform, and they’ll all be very pro-Trump."

So that’s what they did, right down to actually booking a couple of genuine, legitimate country musicians to appear before Borat. They, of course, were not in on the joke (one – who Hines says is quite well known — subsequently sent a "very menacing email" to the member of the film’s field team who booked him).

All of this careful and complicated prepping was necessary before they even sat down to consider the song Baron Cohen would perform.

Having settled on country music as the obvious choice of genre, Hines, Baron Cohen and the writing team decided should it be an old-school, nursery-rhyme-like singalong. While it "had to be crap, because it’s Borat," it also needed to fool the crowd long enough for them get the necessary footage.

The musical starting point became the country classic "Cotton-Eyed Joe." A quick call was made to London and "Sacha’s long-suffering brother" Erran Baron Cohen, who has scored almost all of his elder sibling's films and TV shows. "He’d be woken up at 3 a.m. to have us singing 'Cotton-Eyed Joe' down the phone to him," says Hines.

So while the younger Baron Cohen got to work on some embryonic music in his home studio, the team in the U.S. began on the lyrics, coming up with rhyming couplets about the "Wuhan Flu" and ridiculous four-line stanzas. With the March for Our Rights Rally just days away, ideas and recordings were being flung back and forth across the Atlantic.

Around the same time, Borat’s backing band had to be located, the team eventually tracking down a group from Portland, Oregon, who were brave enough to take part. Unlike the other booked acts, these guys knew what was going on. "We had to be upfront with them, saying they’d be performing what is ostensibly this incredibly insensitive, racist, terrible song," says Hines.

For all the phenomenally elaborate background work, the "Wuhan Fu" performance lasts just two and half minutes in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, with March for Our Rights Rally attendees seen merrily singing along with Baron Cohen (in disguise as a portly, bearded, overall-wearing musician introduced on stage as "Country Steve"). Some of them are even caught on camera throwing the occasional far-right salute.

What isn’t shown in the final edit is members of the crowd finally twigging that they’re being played and charging the stage, with Baron Cohen forced to flee to a getaway car (actually an ambulance, also provided as part of the fake PAC’s investment in the event). This was all revealed in a behind-the-scenes video the actor released in late October, showing him urging the driver to “go go go” as he struggles with both hands to keep the door shut while an angry mob bangs on the sides screaming, "USA! USA!" In an interview with Stephen Colbert, Baron Cohen claimed that one of the people who stormed the stage had actually reached for his handgun, only for a security guard (also hired by the film’s team) to step in.

As Hines notes, Baron Cohen, ever the provocateur, actually sang a lot more of "Wuhan Flu" — of which about 20 verses were written — than is seen in the film.

"Sacha as a performer will just keep going. He’ll keep going and go round and round and round again, because he knows we've got one chance for this song," he says. "So if he thinks he's performed verse two and he stumbled over a word or something, he'll just go back to the start and sing it again. And I think he was on stage singing that song for something like 15 minutes, by which point he’d pushed his luck."

Even despite the thick disguise (which also included a large fake nose), 15 minutes of Baron Cohen repeatedly singing about infecting the likes of Obama, Hillary Clinton, Anthony Fauci, the WHO and even just scientists in general with COVID-19 was enough for some rally attendees to begin asking questions. Hines suggests that a "tipping point" came when the song’s lyrics switched from "inject them with the Wuhan Flu" to "gas 'em up like the Germans do."

"You see them staring at him, and they’re like, wait a minute, that’s Sacha Baron Cohen," he says. "And then the word gets out that they’re being fucked with, and then it gets ugly, and then you’ve just got to get out."