Sex and the City 2: A Cross-Cultural Nightmare

Watch out, Abu Dhabi!

So I know I am behind the times, but I finally watched Sex and the City 2 for the first time this weekend. I had heard that it was pretty awful, but I had thought the first movie was pretty good and I was tired of studying so I decided to give it a chance. Well, the scenery is pretty, the clothes are still ridiculous, and Mr. Big is still a handsome devil, but the cross cultural interactions were so painful that throughout the movie Caitlin and I often looked at each other, jaws dropped in horror.

First, a brief explanation of the plot. Samantha’s former boyfriend Smith starred in a movie shot in the Middle East. At the movie premiere, Samantha meets the film’s producer, who tells her she should visit the Middle East on his dime so she can spread the world on what a wonderful place it is. So Samantha rounds up the gals and they head to Abu Dhabi on an insanely luxurious jet to an insanely luxurious resort. And… hijinks ensue.

Throughout the film, Miranda, who is the only one to read the guidebooks, serves as the cultural interpreter for the girls. She attempts to use Arabic phrases and informs the girls of local customs, including wearing modest clothing. Miranda, Carrie, and Charlotte are fairly respectful of the local customs, but as viewers of the series and film may predict, Samantha– a loud, profane and *ahem* sexually liberated older woman–does not do so well. Throughout the film, she wears revealing clothing, makes inappropriate comments, and gets arrested for making out on the beach. The coup de grace is towards the end of the movie, where Samantha, in short shorts and a tank top, gets her purse dumped out in the middle of a bazaar. With a crowd of religious men watching, condom wrappers come flying out of her purse. Her reaction? To flip all the men off and shriek and curse about her pride in her promiscuity! I consider myself a feminist, but this scene left me absolutely horrified. The girls are chased out of the market by the men and quickly jet back the US, where Samantha can express herself without getting arrested. Whew!

While Samantha is provides most of the offensive material in the movie, there are other cringeworthy parts. Samantha outs one of their many male servants as gay, and there is a scene where he and Samantha use face masks and he helps her out of the bath (seems unrealistic, no?). The girls are continually downing cocktails in a Muslim country. They laugh at the burkini-clad women. And then there is a painful karaoke scene, where the ladies belt out “I Am Woman” and the women in the audience proudly stand up and sing with them. Women’s lib, everyone!

"I am a liberated American woman, hear me roar!"

To be fair, there are a couple nice scenes of cultural exchange. Carrie, in speaking to yet another man servant, learns he is a migrant worker and sees his wife only every three months. At the end, she leaves him a very generous tip, intended to be used to go visit his wife. And when the girls are on the run in the market, they bond with a group of helpful women who wear the latest fashions under their burkas (which I’ve heard is often true). Still, I suspect the film could be seen as offensive to many Middle Easterners. In fact, according to IMDB the movie was actually filmed in Morrocco because the United Arab Emirates refused to let them film in the country.

Now I know that the point of the film was not to go in-depth into the cultural and political mores of the UAE. Yet, being that the setting is such an integral part of the plot, I wish that the movie had not relied so much on cliches- the camel rides in the desert, the yes-men servants, and especially the Ugly American stereotype perpetuated by Samantha. But maybe I am too critical. If you saw the movie, what do you think?

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3 thoughts on “Sex and the City 2: A Cross-Cultural Nightmare

  1. Tori, (unfortunately I’ve also seen the film) I’d have to agree with your analysis of Sex and the City 2. There are definitely offensive material in that movie and parts that were really unnecessary. Honestly, I thought the scene with the arab women in the market was really over the top. I almost felt as if the filmmaker put that scene in because there were so many negative and demeaning scenes in the movie. As far as Arab women being fashionably, just because you cover, it doesn’t automatically mean that you’re a fashion disaster. Yes, you may choose to wear a long garb on public but dress in the latest Gucci dress at home. It’s like assuming that just because you’re American, you have to wearing the latest designer labels. You’d think that in the globalized World that we live in, we’d have better representation of different nations, but really, movies like SATC 2 just reinforce stereotypes. I did some research about alcohol consumption in Abu Dhabi and apparently, it’s legal to drink in a bar/hotel/restaurant, but its illegal to drink in “public” or to be drunk in public (http://www.grapeshisha.com/about-uae/alcohol-in-dubai.html). Thanks for you’re post! I enjoyed reading your perspective.

  2. Thanks for your perspective Fatemeh! Public diplomacy enthusiast that I am, I was simply horrified watching this movie. And judging from the reviews I read online, one does not have to be a world traveler to recognize how offensive those stereotypes were. I would like to think that Americans traveling abroad are more like Miranda and less like Samantha- I have to say, I can’t blame them for kicking her out of Abu Dhabi! I really don’t know what the writers were thinking.

    -Tory

  3. I think this movie is a case of entertainment taking precedence over cultural relevance. I think that the market for this movie is gay men, single women, and the straight men that begrudgingly accompany the straight women. From a purely entertainment perspective, I’m sure many moviegoers thought that the movie was fantastic, and that the portrayal of these four American personality “shells” amid the atmosphere of Abu Dhabi was gripping.

    I thought the movie was terrible, but not only because of its cultural ignorance and insensitivity, but because it is a product that caters to the lowest common denominator. I think there are movies that engage audiences, and introduce audiences to different cultures. This, however, was an example of four menopausal, highly sexualized (read in some feminist circles as “empowered”) women, romping around Abu Dhabi. In short, the movie was terrible for many reasons.

    -DR

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