SATC2 fail

// 4 June 2010

*note: trying not to drop any major spoilers, but if you literally don’t want to know anything about this film before you’ve seen it, look away now!*

I went to see Sex and the City 2 last Friday, with a group of girl friends. I was a huge fan of the show; imperfect, narrow and unrealistic as it was. I was excited. I was prepared for it to be cheesy, and silly in the extreme. I was prepared to groan and think it was nowhere as good as the TV shows. And for a while it delivered. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that they had me at the Liza Minelli number in the first few minutes. I leaned over to my friend, sorry excuse for a cosmopolitan in hand, and whispered “whatever else happens in this film will be worth it for this one scene”. Turns out I was wrong.

I get a bit bored by questions about whether SATC is ‘feminist’ or not. Apart from that being the sort of question that newspapers like to fill column inches with vapid wonderings, it doesn’t really matter to me. To paraphrase a friend of mine – where else are you going to see a major release movie exclusively focused on women over 40 this year? I don’t mind about the ridiculously implausible lifestyles, the clothes or the fact that they are all implausibly groomed and thin. It’s escapism. I thought the series was smart, warm, and funny and, yes okay then, feminist, if you want to get down to brass tacks. The first film wasn’t great, but I watched it, more than once, and I liked it. Fondly and indulgently, like a little sister who’s gone and done something really dopey, but it doesn’t stop you loving her.

sex_and_the_city_2_12-535x356.jpg

For all that I love it, it hasn’t gone unnoticed that SATC has never been great on race issues. Women of colour have been noticeably absent from the series, something which the first film tried to correct with the inclusion of Jennifer Hudson (not especially well). But SATC2 is breathtaking in its attitude towards the Middle East, and to Muslim women in general. The treatment of Abu Dhabi as a kind of Arabian-nights style theme park raises an eyebrow. The cultural appropriation is cringe-worthy. The portrayal of anyone brown there as either Qu’ran-wielding fundamentalist, cowering wife, or a some sort of ‘poor but wise’ character to allow Carrie to demonstrate her benevolence made me wince. By the time the four Manhattanites are staring at a Muslim women wearing a niquab, first slack-jawed then openly sniggering as she eats a plate of fries, I had my head in my hands with mortification.

SATC2 is an epic fail on issues of race (so much so that even the Daily Mail has noticed). Challenged on this, Sarah Jessica Parker defends the film, saying:

“Certainly Carrie is loving the experience of this rare opportunity to observe women of faith who are really loving the idea of tradition or, in fact, loving their faith and re-defining tradition for themselves”.

This, basically, is bullshit. Sniggering at someone eating their lunch is not experiencing a rare opportunity to interact with a new culture. Neither is borrowing a burqa to make your escape from a group for ‘pitchfork wielding locals’. And, anyway, they’re not ‘discovering’ anything. There’s not a single conversation in the film about what Muslim women think, in fact there is barely a single line spoken by a woman of colour in the film. It’s a week now since I’ve seen it, but I can only remember one scene in which Carrie et al exchange a single word with a female resident of Abu Dhabi, and that’s a two-minute scene focused on the ‘revelation’ that the Muslim women long to see New York and wear the latest designer fashions under their burqas. The after-school-special message presumably being we’re all the same underneath? I can assure you that there was no discussion of culture, religion or tradition that I noticed.

This isn’t a problem in itself. I’m not going to SATC for discussion of any of those things. I’d be worried if I were. Not every film talks about every group of people (although a disproportionate number of them manage to talk about rich white folks), and whilst SATC has sometimes been problematic on race it has (mostly) been a sin of omission. But that’s not the problem with this movie. In fact, by the end of it, I was wishing that the worst I could say about it was that it hadn’t portrayed any local women. SATC2 doesn’t ignore Muslim women; it stereotypes them as either shrouded victims or bellydancers. It’s talking about them but not allowing them to talk for themselves. That is far, far, more problematic than not portraying them at all. The women of Abu Dhabi are there as objects of pity, of scorn, or of patronising, wide-eyed curiosity, but never as equals. If this is the best the screenwriters can offer, it’s about time they called it a day.

Comments From You

Lauren // Posted 4 June 2010 at 12:02 pm

I don’t get why SATC is assumed to have this myriad of responsibilities, just like anything else remotely feminisist.

Why don’t we spend our time criticising other movies patronising other races? Practically every portrayal of race out there.

Maybe I’m being a bit thick – I don’t get why anything feminism gets told off by virtue when it doesn’t do X,Y and Z. Can’t a feminist ever just be angry at the perpetual sexism?

Why don’t we write about how crap the daily mail is at sexism instead of sex and the city? Why don’t we attack page 3 on tfw as much as reclaim the night officials?

Let’s face it anything feminism is a cheap shot for all.

Is it surprising everyone is jumping on the attack of satc? It’s doing a good thing in it’s inclusion of older women and people treat it first like the feminist gospel; then, like if it misses a step it should be thrown to hell

something curious about this pushing into the spotlight of anything remotely feminist. It feels like how women are always pushed into the spotlight.

I’m so wary of criticising ‘feminist’ things from reclaim nights, to Greer, to satc. Especially when there are bigger fish to fry.. It feels we don’t have the proverbial belly to go on the attack of the things that need it (e.g there should be a counter article to every daily mail article) so instead we fight within or anything feminist.

Lynne Miles // Posted 4 June 2010 at 12:31 pm

Because I don’t think that this film was remotely feminist in its treatment of Muslim women.

Further, because *it didn’t have to bring these issues up*. Like I said, SATC (the TV series) was for the most part blithely unaware of issues of religion etc. That’s better than this which actively picks up these issues but does it TERRIBLY. I wasn’t accusing it of ignoring Muslim women’s issues, I was accusing it of purporting to address them but doing it so incredibly one-sidedly that it was just insulting.

Also, we’re always going off on the Daily Mail but you have to rein it in a little or we’d become the Daily Mash!

Louise // Posted 4 June 2010 at 12:49 pm

All feminist issues aside (as far as that is possible… I can but try):

SATC2 is a *bad* movie with several cringe-inducing moments when the girls encounter anything “ethnic” (though no worse than many American movies that film overseas) and one jaw-droppingly awful moment that made me shrink in my seat in case anyone I knew saw me watching this shameful movie (the chip-eating niqab sniggering).

I loved the series, probably because they mostly statyed in Manhattan. But I agree with Lynn: ignoring the rest of the world from the safety from NYC is one thing, but judging the rest of the world as being full of “hilarious ethnic sorts who just want to be like us” is quite another.

Lauren // Posted 4 June 2010 at 12:52 pm

‘Also, we’re always going off on the Daily Mail but you have to rein it in a little or we’d become the Daily Mash!’

Lynne, lmao!

To be honest I haven’t seen the film.. maybe it is as bad as you make out *cringe*.

Clare // Posted 4 June 2010 at 1:05 pm

The film didn’t just disappoint me – it actually offended me somewhat. What an obvious opportunity to have *just one* conversation about whether women choose or are forced to cover up?!?! Surely given that the whole SATC franchise is about women and the challenges they face this would’ve been a no-brainer?

I also found the freak-show portrayal of burkas et al childish and ignorant – yes, burkinis are unusual, but compared to some of the apparal donned by the leading ladies they were fabulous!

I just thought it was racism packaged up as exotic fun. Fail all round :-(

Boum Boum // Posted 4 June 2010 at 1:13 pm

Lauren,

Orientalism and racism are big fishes to fry.

On which grounds can you tell that talking about race within feminism is not important? Could it be because you can afford to because of your white privilege?

We, feminists, do need to have these conversations. We should fight white supremacy everywhere, whether in SATC’s, in The Daily Mail… Anywhere else.

I sorry but I can only recommend you to read what black feminists and feminists of colour have written about race/racism in feminist community and on a wider level. “Ain’t I a woman”, by bell hooks, or books by Angela Y. Davis and Audre Lorde, to name a few. Read Edward Said, Frantz Fanon…

Please do not be wary to examine our own faults. We can get better, you know! White feminists can hurt ppl of colour, you know, but they can change. All of us have agency to transform our lives.

“The bigger fish to fry” argument: women and feminists have been hearing it from men in activists communities for so long that I am surprised that we can perpetuate it.

Cara // Posted 4 June 2010 at 1:46 pm

I pretty much agree, Lynne.

I don’t get why they had to set so much of the film in Abu Dhabi at all. It seems like they actively went out of their way to have a pop at the Middle East, to me.

Did you notice the bit where Charlotte used her maiden name (hmmm, whole discussion in itself) because her husband is Jewish? Rationally yes that may be a wise thing to do, but they didn’t have to make a point of it.

I had no sympathy for Samantha and that guy, practically going at it in the bar. I would have complained if they had done that in the UK. No-one wants to see that, it just shows no consideration.

It is disrespectful and rude to have no awareness of the culture when you go somewhere; blatant public displays of sexual attraction, and wearing practically nothing, as Samantha did in the ‘raging mob of pitchfork waving locals’ scene – not acceptable.

Lynne Miles // Posted 4 June 2010 at 1:49 pm

@Claire – god, I had forgotten about the burkini bit. Yes, cringey.

@Cara – oddly enough the Samantha bits offended me least of all of it. Perhaps because Samantha’s character goes around offending people everywhere…?! But yes, they did seem to go out of their way to have a go. LIke I say, if they hadn’t brought it up that would’ve been one thing, but they seemed to make a special effort and then totally fucked up.

Elmo // Posted 4 June 2010 at 5:10 pm

Well, I hate SATC anyway, mostly because a lot of people I know seem to think all women love it and are represented by it.

Lynne, not an attack, a proper question-

If it *is* a feminist series/film, how come it has such trouble with feminist issues- like woman’s rights in the middle east?

Is it perhaps that it can only be considered feminist when it focuses on rich women going shopping? Because imo, it seems way out of its depths with issues like the ones in the film. I know the series is meant to be a bit of fun, but I get the feeling its not really interested in the issues it claims to explore, I feel its way more interested in shoes and dresses and looking nice. Because, feminist or not, the one thing that sells is shiny pretty things.

Basically, I feel the writers would rather make money than explore anything interesting.

Anyway, Im going to run away from all the SATC fans now, byeeee!

Lynne Miles // Posted 4 June 2010 at 5:28 pm

@Elmo. I think the answer is that, realistically, it was feminist for a very tightly defined group of women. But I think the extension to that answer is that the films are genuinely very different to the TV series. They did actually cover serious issues in the TV programme that are of relevance to a certain group of metropolitan, upwardly mobile (at the beginning) straight women.

At the beginning it was bold in its portrayal of women as uncompromising and brave and with really strong support networks. And they were sarcastic and ballsy and…cool. It got less like this towards the end of the series, when they all became very much richer and it became more polished. In all fairness, really nothing of this remains in the films. I have no idea whether they’re the same writers but it doesn’t *feel* like they are.

Of course it was never an *issues* show, it was always lighthearted and escapist, and there was always clothes and shoes and campery and that’s what’s left now, really. The films have lost their heart.

Hadley Freeman’s is much more eloquent than me on why the films have “destroyed the legacy” of the TV show. Lots of comparisons of why the TV show was smart and cool and how the films are the complete opposite of that on the same issues.

Elmo // Posted 4 June 2010 at 5:44 pm

Thanks Lynne :D

coldharbour // Posted 4 June 2010 at 6:40 pm

SATC is a about as feminist as Gary Bushell on an all night bender. New York is one of the most multi-cultural and multi-ethnic regions in the world with one of the largest levels of socio-economic inequality in the developed world; unfortunately the lives of four upper-middle class white woman (yawn) are the only ones worth portraying. Aside from that, why does anyone think a show stereotyping woman as infantile consumers is somehow feminist? Cheap capitalist propaganda at it’s worst.

george // Posted 4 June 2010 at 8:18 pm

Sorry, but if you think SATC is or was feminist, you are deluded. It’s about some rich, thin, white women, with all the privilege that implies, exercising their privilege to the detriment of other women everywhere; a spectacle that we are meant to approve of and aspire to. It glamourised conformity with oppressive beauty standards, and promoted clothes and shoes as the obsession of all women everywhere. It is sexist bullshit, an insult to women, and racist to boot. Watch it if you want to, but claiming it is somehow feminist just because it has women in it is just ridiculous.

This article is nowhere near as perceptive as others I’ve read about SATC, including the Lindy West one.

Elmo // Posted 4 June 2010 at 10:25 pm

I just read the Lindy West review-omg, I havnt laughed so much in ages, brilliant :D

polly // Posted 5 June 2010 at 4:56 am

Racism is a problem for feminism becasue there’s not much point in a ‘liberation’ movement that only liberates white women. (or young women, or ‘able bodied’ – sorry can’t think of a less ableist term, maybe someone can correct me – or rich women, or heterosexual women etc etc etc, I haven’t covered everything because I’ve just woken up)

Plus mainstream liberal feminism has a pretty bad track record on issues of race. And all the other stuff mentioned above.

Lynne makes the point that the film doesn’t simply fail to include muslim women,(which would have been odd for a film set in a Muslim country) but presents them in an actively racist way. I haven’t seen the film and I don’t intend to, but she’s also hardly the first person to say so. As she points out, even the Mail thinks it’s racist.

KS - Yorkshire // Posted 10 June 2010 at 9:16 pm

I’m all for feminism and think that the cinema always needs strong and powerful female characters, especially women who know how to enjoy life and don’t define themselves by the men in their lives.

Unfortunately that was painfully lacking in this film and I found the women’s reactions to the UAE extremely offensive. My parents live over in Dubai and you immediately become accustomed to beautiful women in burqas when out and about. The thought of sitting in a restaurant gawping at one of them and laughing about the way they eat their chips is so offensive and so completely culturally unaware I had to watch through my fingers!

I also found Carrie’s empathy with her butler incredibly racist and patronising. She seemed happy to leave a bit of a tip for him, but just as happy to make him carry her brolly and shoes while she took a stroll on the beach. Yet another painful scene! Especially when her biggest problem was that she has to stay in and watch tv a couple of nights a week.

Complete disappointment – fingers crossed there won’t be yet another sequel!

maggie from canada // Posted 12 June 2010 at 5:15 pm

I went to SATC yesterday. I hadn’t read any reviews. It is racist and offensive. Only in the US would people be defending it. Samantha felt it was OK to rename her butler “Paula” because his name was Abdul and she thought he was gay. The characters were all so disrespectful of another country’s culture and beliefs. I was, quite frankly, shocked by this film and the ignorance of the characters – everyone in the world knows that there are restrictions on dress and relationships between women and men. If you don’t have respect for those values, don’t visit.

Alicia // Posted 21 June 2010 at 3:19 pm

Jeeze!! I think everyone is taking this far to seriously!!

I strongly believe in equal rights, I am independent, educated etc etc

But the film set out what it intended to do. It was light entertainment. I did not find it offensive.

Yes Samantha causes trouble where ever she goes – that’s part of her character.

Yes the girls did laugh at a woman eating a chip, but i think it was irrelevant she was muslim, if she was a different race, but had been wearing something restrictive they still would have laughed

And finally… Miranda acted as a good counter-balance throughout to try and educate the girls, and made an effort to try and the learn the language.

So just lighten up everybody!

Boum Boum // Posted 21 June 2010 at 6:28 pm

@ Alicia.

Islam is a religion, not a race!

earwicga // Posted 22 June 2010 at 10:03 am

I didn’t read this review before I went to see the film for the reasons stated at the top of the OP. And OMG – what a horrible film! I loved the series, and liked the first film but this was vile. As has been said above, it was racist and offensive and I felt really disappointed that here was an opportunity to show Muslim women in a non-stereotypical way, no discussion was ever going to be part of the story, but instead they chose to use gross stereotypes. Just horrible!

sara // Posted 29 December 2010 at 12:01 am

Hi Lynne, thank you for your review. I am not sure I can agree with you that SATC is a feminist series, at all, take one example, that all the main characters who are married change their surnames, if this was a feminist show, then there would have been at least an episode or a running theme along episodes concerning this, most feminist friends I know would never just give up their name, just like that.

I don’t think SATC the TV show purports to be anything actually, it was a series of fluff, fashion, New York architecture, wealth and cocktails and everybody knew how superficial it was and that was fine, pure escapism.

It never really took on serious issues such as racism, feminism or even homophobia. (I don’t think the token gay characters count). It wasn’t a pioneer for anyone, only a bit of fun.

What bothers me is how people are unduly influenced, and we are all influenced by what we watch/read more than we realise and more than we care to admit, that’s why I think this is so serious.

While SATC just had its 20 minute episodes there was no time to get deep, it was like high school dramas in one’s 30s and 40s, but the minute they stepped into this film and decided to make a half hearted attempt at portraying another culture…

I wince at how many impressionable people who don’t know any Muslims in real life will be influenced by this silly film?!

and what was that ridiculous scene at the end?! Some of my Muslim friends never go bare shouldered even at female only parties the thought of them doing some sort of power ranger strip tease

oh dear dear dear the trouble is SATC had the power and the audience to really educate and bring together. If only they had consulted actual Muslim people, women and men, religious clerics, I’m sure they could have moulded a SATC story line around that and had a postive influence on the way the world views Islam.

Sheila // Posted 29 December 2010 at 9:45 pm

I found SATC 2 quite troubling. How anyone can think that it’s feminist is quite beyond me. The women abdicate their responsibilities without a moment’s second thought – thus suggesting that they didn’t have “real” jobs or responsibilities anyway. They change their clothes and are fixated with fashion thus perpetuating a belief that real women must care about their handbags more than they care about treating other people with respect and dignity. The Miranda character is a cruel parody of a stressed out career woman. Carrie might as well change her name to Barbie. I told my teenage daughter over and over again – this isn’t how real grown up women behave.

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