The Cable

Nic Cage in Face Off With Human Rights Groups Over Kazakh Trip

The Academy Award-winning actor is in hot water for lavishing praise on the government of Kazakhstan.

VENICE, ITALY - AUGUST 30:  (EDITORS NOTE: This image was processed using digital filters)  An alternative view of actor Nicolas Cage who attends the 'Joe' Premiere during the 70th Venice International Film Festival on August 30, 2013 in Venice, Italy.  (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)
VENICE, ITALY - AUGUST 30: (EDITORS NOTE: This image was processed using digital filters) An alternative view of actor Nicolas Cage who attends the 'Joe' Premiere during the 70th Venice International Film Festival on August 30, 2013 in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

Nicolas Cage has had plenty of hits, and some epic misses, over the course what is now a long  acting career. Through a combination of personal quirks — he’s graced the cover of a biology textbook from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia — and choice of roles, however, he’s managed to wedge himself into the American consciousnesses as an icon of sorts.

For his latest stunt, Cage jetted to Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan, for the Eurasia International Film Festival, an arts gala sponsored by the Kazakh Ministry of Culture and Sports, endorsing the country’s oppressive, authoritarian regime in the process.

Cage’s high-profile visit generated headlines across the country — and memes around the world (featuring the actor swaddled in traditional Kazakh garb). But not everyone is laughing. Human rights observers point out that while he posed for a series of odd pictures, he also “spurred a flurry of positive press coverage for the country’s authoritarian government.”

And, indeed, Cage was spotted around Astana engaging in a handful of publicity stunts alongside public officials, including planting trees with the city’s mayor. Cage was caught on video saying, “I’ve never felt so welcome… I will recommend Astana and Kazakhstan to everyone I know.”

“His glowing review gave Kazakhstan’s dictatorship much-needed PR, and his photos boosted the regime’s visibility on the international stage,” said Human Rights Foundation President Thor Halvorssen in a statement. “Even as it persecutes journalists, monitors and arrests social media users, crushes opposition voices, and strangles the electoral process.”

Cage isn’t the first fading Hollywood star to take flack for getting too close to post-Soviet autocracy. In 2011, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Seal, and Hilary Swank all fêted the brutal Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov at a birthday bash in Grozny. Last year, Steven Seagal received his Russian citizenship from his long-time friend Vladimir Putin. And fellow American actor Adrien Brody was also in attendance with Cage on this Kazakh trip, according to Kazinform, the Kazakh government’s state-run media service. Hollywood stalwart John Malkovich likewise made an appearance at the film festival.

The Eurasia International Film Festival is being sold as part of Expo 2017 Astana, a summer-long event centered on the theme, “Future Energy.” The Expo is being dubbed “the Olympics of economy, business, and culture,” with a large “Future City” complex constructed on the outskirts of Astana. And what’s a autocracy without some ham-fisted attempts at corruption? Several main Expo 2017 organizers have been arrested for embezzlement, and there have been complaints about forced ticket sales.

According to the Human Rights Foundation, the Eurasia International Film Festival is partnered with Foundation of the First President of Kazakhstan, President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s own nonprofit used to promote the ideals of his dictatorship.

“Celebrities could play a key role in the struggle for human rights, especially in places like Kazakhstan where artistic freedom is most under threat. To see role models like Nicolas Cage instead take the side of dictators is profoundly disappointing and a sign that human rights aren’t a consideration for Hollywood stars,” said HRF Chief Strategy Officer Alex Gladstein in a statement.

Also of note: HRF Chief Strategy Officer Alex Gladstein considers Nicolas Cage a role model.

Photo Credit: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

Michael K. Bergin is a Social Media and Digital Strategy intern at Foreign Policy. He is currently studying history and political science at Georgetown University.

Noah Buyon is a digital intern.

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