“Sex and the City 2’s” stunning Muslim clichés

It’s hard to overstate the offensiveness of the fabulous four’s exquisitely tone-deaf trip to Abu Dhabi


(See Wajahat Ali’s take on the first Sex and the City movie – “Sex and the City Through a Man’s Eyes” http://www.counterpunch.org/waj05312008.html)


I’m a heterosexual, Muslim dude who until recently thought pleated khakis and loafers were “hip” and mistook Bergdorf Goodman for an expensive Swiss chocolate. So it is not surprising that 40 minutes into “Sex and the City 2,” a 150-minute cotton candy fantasy accessorized with materialism and fashion porn, I was comatose with boredom.

But I was defibrillated by the film’s detour into Abu Dhabi (really Morocco and studio sets) and what can only be described as an Orientalist’s wet dream. After discovering they will visit the Middle East, the ladies whip out hall-of-fame Ali Baba clichés: References to “magic carpet” (a double entendre, naturally), Scheherazade and Jasmine from “Aladdin” come in rapid succession. Upon hearing a stewardess give routine flight instructions in Arabic, Samantha behaves like a wild-eyed child hearing a foreign language for the first time. “I wonder what she’s saying. It sounds so exotic!”

Michael Patrick King’s exquisitely tone-deaf movie is cinematic Viagra for Western cultural imperialists who still ignorantly and inaccurately paint the entire Middle East (and Iran) as a Shangri La in desperate need of liberation from ignorant, backward natives. Historian Bernard Lewis, the 93-year-old Hall of Fame Orientalist and author of such nuanced gems as “The Arabs in History” and “Islam and the West,” would probably die of priapism if he saw this movie. It’s like the cinematic progeny of “Not Without My Daughter” and “Arabian Nights” with a makeover by Valentino. Forget the oppressed women of Abu Dhabi. Let’s buy more bling for the burqa!

Our four female cultural avatars, like imperialistic Barbies, milk Abu Dhabi for leisure and hedonism without making any discernible, concrete efforts to learn about her people and their daily lives. An exception is Miranda, whose IQ drops about 100 points as she dilutes the vast complexities of a diverse culture into sound bites like this: “‘Hanh Gee’ means ‘yes’ in Arabic!”

Only it doesn’t — it’s Punjabi, which is spoken by South Asians.

She also incorrectly tells the audience that all women in the Middle East have to cover themselves. And, yes, nearly every single Middle Eastern female character in “SATC 2’s” imaginative rendition of “Abu Dhabi,” is veiled, silent or subdued by aggressive men.

Like curious visitors staring at an exotic animal in the zoo with equal doses of horror and fascination, the four “girls” observe a niqabi female eating French fries by carefully lifting her veil for each consumed fry. After witnessing this “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” event, Samantha declares, “It’s like they don’t want [women] to have a voice.”

If our cultural ambassadors truly cared about saving Muslim women, they surely would try to help them during the film’s interminable two and half hour running time, no? Sadly, instead, these incredibly shallow mock-feminists can’t even bother to have one decent conversation with a Muslim woman, because they’re too immersed in picnics on the desert and singing Arab disco karaoke renditions of “I Am Woman.” In fact, Abu Dhabi is just peachy when it’s a fantasy land where they ride around in limos and get comped an extravagantly vulgar $22,000 hotel suite. However, only when that materialism is taken away do they worry, in only the most superficial way, about sexual hypocrisy and women’s oppression.

Meanwhile, the perpetually self-absorbed Carrie finds enlightenment in the simple, wise words of her Indian manservant Gaurav, who functions as the movie’s life-changing, magical minority. And Samantha, our “Western” avatar of freedom and liberation, offers a juxtaposition to the silent, oppressed Muslim women by making immature puns like “Lawrence of my Labia” and performing fellatio on a sheesha pipe in public.

The movie uses only two broad colors to paint the Middle East: One depicting an opulent Eden for our blissfully ignorant protagonists to selfishly use as a temporary escape, and the other showing an oppressive dungeon populated by intolerant men that cannot comprehend cleavage or bare shoulders.

Consider the film’s painful climax, in which Samantha, now wearing shorts and a low-cut top, spills dozens of condoms from her purse in the middle of a crowded market. Right before the condom explosion, the Islamic call to prayer, the Adhan, is conveniently heard for no discernible reason. The angry, hairy men, overwhelmed by anger and shock, decide to abandon their daily activities and busy life to encircle Samantha and condemn her as a harlot and slut, but not before Samantha proudly holds the condoms up high and dry humps the air telling the men she uses them to have sex. Because they cannot tolerate a sassy, back-talking, condom-using female baring her legs, they decide en masse to spontaneously chase all four women. Appearing like an oasis in the desert, two mysterious women in a burqa silently nod to the four girls, who subsequently follow the women into a secret room revealing the existence of a secret book club attended by a dozen niqabi women, who disrobe to reveal their hidden designer clothes, fashionable shoes and makeup.

OK, a bubble gum approach to reality is to be expected from “SATC2.” And one could imagine a scenario in which the frothy light comedy could be used to erase mutual misunderstandings. After all, Muslim women around the world, who religiously watched the show, would love a strong, empowered Muslim female “SATC” character who could enlighten Western audiences about the complex, and at times oppressive, reality of Middle Eastern women while simultaneously rocking Ferragamos. Instead, the film exists in a wacky cultural vacuum blissfully unaware of its own arrogance and prejudices.

Apparently, we’re meant to believe Muslim women in the Middle East are equally self-absorbed, vain and materialistic. After completely dissing the Middle East, its people, its religion and its culture, it’s “Sex and the City” that truly insults the Muslim women, by silencing them entirely.

(See Wajahat Ali’s take on the first Sex and the City movie – “Sex and the City Through a Man’s Eyes” http://www.counterpunch.org/waj05312008.html)

Wajahat Ali is the author of “The Domestic Crusaders,” a play about Muslim Pakistani Americans that will be published by McSweeney’s in the Fall 2010. He blogs at Goatmilk.

34 thoughts on ““Sex and the City 2’s” stunning Muslim clichés

  1. This shows how dumb can they get.
    Women in those countries are suppressed and are considered nothing more than a tissue paper. And the irony is, those women dont even know that.
    And how dumb is that they know no difference between punjabi and arabic? This is how they make a movie!?

  2. Excellent take on Sex In The City 2 – thank you for taking the time to write. As a mid-aged, American female I thought it was very refreshing and honest.

  3. You have a fantastic way with words! This review was brutal, and spot on… I literally spat my tea out at the Bernard Lewis priapism comment… witty stuff. Far more enjoyable than those two plus hours I won’t be getting back from SATC2, thanks.

  4. I was pretty sure that I didn’t want to see SATC2 before I read this, but now I’m sure I don’t. It sounds painful. And ignorant. And a step backward for relations between the West and the Muslim world.

  5. Ai Hai….really wanted to go watch the film for fantasy escapism moments…but I won’t now. You’ve made me quite guilty. *Sigh…its too bad that light entertainment can’t also be politically correct.

    Good review, though.


  6. “If our cultural ambassadors truly cared about saving Muslim women, they surely would try to help them during the film’s interminable two and half hour running time, no?”

    um… actually they don’t care at all about “saving” muslim women, not that we need saving, it’s movie about sex and fashion. that is all.

    putting this story in NYC or Abu Dhabi or anywhere else is besides the point. it’s just a mindless, i.e. “fun”, experience for those of us who loved the series. it’s a fool’s errand to try and find meaning in such a movie. OF COURSE it would be orientalizing in its view of the muslim world. OF COURSE it’s going to misunderstand and essentialize. to expect anything different is naive.

    i appreciate the concern, but until a modern muslim woman decides to give her story in a movie, it’s ridiculous to expect a bunch of male white writers and producers to get it right.

    • I get your point, but one of the things I loved about SATC (the series) was the way each episode illustrated some kind of life lesson. What’s the lesson that SATC 2 teaches? That it’s okay to be totally oblivious to your environment? That insensitivity is funny? And why can’t we expect the writers and producers to get it right? The whole movie was just laziness on their part. They went for the cheap laugh. And two and a half hours?? Come on!

      • The show has always stood for expression, fashion and freedom. The cast members have lucrative contracts with clothes and perfume makers and magazine publishers. Do you seriously expect them to treat the forcible bagging-up of women with anything other than scorn and contempt ?

  7. “four female cultural avatars”….nicely put. The underlying message of these kinds of movies is “I’m never satisfied. I don’t know what happiness is even when I’m sleeping with it. Let me drink away all my problems.”

  8. this was a great review. a little harsh.. but i can understand why you got carried away. i am a fan of the tv show and the first movie and because it garners mindless fun, i will see the 2nd movie but i hear ya…the “girls” are starting to get on my nerves!

  9. My question is, what kind of self-respecting hetrosexual man watches Sex & The City.
    I agree with Mariam – we don’t need saving. It’s just mindless comedy, not another argument for the “us against them” victim story.

  10. Miriam you say it’s ridiculous to expect white, male writers to get it right? Well how about this: male, white writers, don’t write the movie. Non-white people have sat through films and tv shows where their thoughts, dreams, desires, cultures and beliefs are interpreted by whites with no sensitivety to the target race. It’s only with arrogance and disreregard that this is done. Oh and by the way, maybe it would be better to ask why would we expect Hollywood, who’s major studios are ran by Jews, to be culturally sensitive to Arabs?

  11. “Our four female cultural avatars, like imperialistic Barbies, milk Abu Dhabi for leisure and hedonism without making any discernible, concrete efforts to learn about her people and their daily lives.”

    Why should they ? They’re there on holiday, not a fact-finding mission.

  12. MUSLIM HOMOSEXUAL MAN HERE: Hey ladies, it’s just a ‘fun’ film. I was worried before I saw it that this film would really make Arabs, in general, look badly, but it didn’t. It was funny, fun, and it touched lightly on our ‘Islamic’ culture, for what it’s worth. Sarah Jessica Parker is a supporter of Israel, and I have trouble with anyone supporing some of the crap Israel does, but she and her, I dunno, film writers, did us more good than not. YO, get over it, it’s just a fun film. Yallah, take it easy, salam habaybi

  13. Ok so why the heck would someone expect sex and the city to represent “Muslim world ” right??? Have you ever seen any eastern film represent the west more than the superficial aspects and potray white women right?? Not really! It’s not upto Sarah Jessica Parker to represent the Muslim world .. Not to be harsh anyone expecting a movie about sex glamour and fashion to shed light on real issues is obvious a bit lunatic.. It’s sex and the city … Take a break .. It’s a fun movie about friends trying to figure life out… And having FUN!! Good attempt but to be honest it just sound like a big whine session …

  14. My daughters just saw the movie and from their reports there was plenty to dislike (as well as some to like) about the movie without picking up on the Orientalist aspects. Perhaps it would have been better to say that most American movies get it wrong. Just like (I agree with Patims) most foreign movies get American culture wrong. However…does that mean that we should stop trying to point out the misrepresentations?

  15. that you sat through the entire movie is a wonder in it self 🙂

    ps: thanks for ruining it for me. i was really looking forward to donning my burqa and heading to the cinemas… sheesh!

  16. The worst thing for me, is that, apparently, too much of Hollywood is incapable of writing about four successful middle-aged women WITHOUT it about them finding A MAN, fighting to keep up their figures (why?), having designer babies, and doing frivolous crap like “finding themselves” in exotic locations. Good for the women when they go, and later, when they leave behind all the Gulf residents they’ve “blessed” with their presence, no doubt, when they go back home; for all the normal workers in Abu Dhabi, like Carrie’s new servant, however, their lives go back to normal. What does their “feminine magic” leave them?

    The point is, what place does a movie like this have in a world where most people are trying to find work? I’d love to “find myself,” too, provided that I could even afford a passport and a visa, never mind the plane ticket, the hotel, the money to buy sh**, and the guarantee that as a black woman, I’d actually have a good time. Plus, I would actually need a job to pay off my bills and afford anything at all, first. 😛

    Also, why do so many male reviewers feel the need to clarify their heterosexuality every time they review this movie? Why are so many so scared of being thought gay? It may have been written in jest, but *I’m* not trying to be humorous; it’s a serious question. It’s a bit sexist how so many men keep saying that about this movie and the preceding one; I wish they’d quit doing it. No female film critic is required to deny being a lesbian every time some Judd Apatow-ish comedy comes out. Am I any less womanly than a man is manly if I like Die Hard and I hate rom-coms as much as most men? Not to be the Debbie Downer nitpicker in my second post ever on this site, but jeez…

  17. The best article is one that is simple to read. I have a an MBA and I found that article quite wordy…. I know English is your second language but the simpler it is, the better but occasionally use technical words…. Cheers!

  18. maybe they were shallow and superficial.. but isn’t it true that muslim women have no voice or 1/2 voice according to Sharia’a ?? isn’t true that they put them in niqab and make them eat in such a disgusting way because to them a woman is only a pleasure subject for her man “زين للناس حب الشهوات من النساء والبنين والقناطير المقنطرة من الذهب والفضة..” (آل عمران، 13)
    isn’t she All a A’wra in Islam ??? so don’t take things very personally and as usual accuse the west of trying to attack islam . Islam already attacked women and if you read the Quraan and the Haddith you will see. Let me give u a hint of what the Haddith says about women :
    “.. لو أمرت أحد أن يسجد لأحد، لأمرت الزوجة أن تسجد لزوجها. والذي نفسي بيده لا تؤدي المرأة حق ربها حتى تؤدي حق زوجها
    إن المرأة خلقت من ضلع، وأن أعوج شيء في الضلع أعلاه، لن تستقيم لك على طريقة واحدة، وإن استمتعت بها على عوج، وإن ذهبت تقيمها كسرتها، وكسرها طلاقها”
    “إن كان الشؤم في شي فيكون في الدار والمرأة والفرس”
    إذا تزوج أحدكم امرأة أو اشترى خادماً فليقل: اللهم أني أسألك خيرها وخير ما جبلتها عليه، وأعوذ بك من شرها وشر ما جبلتها عليه، وإذا اشترى بعيراً فليأخذ بذروة سنامه وليقل مثل ذلك”
    and the list goes on and on and on…So yes Muslim women have no voice no respect and they are just here to please their men. that is their only mission in life ” PLEASE AND OBEY”

  19. @Mirey:

    It helps to study the rest of the world’s major religions (particularly, their Holy books). You might be upset to find a common link. The Pentateuch (first 5 books of the Tabernacle) clearly describes women as inferior. In addition to proclaiming their inferiority (by stating clearly that they are “worth less than men”), the books also proclaim that God gives permission to the Israelites to kill the non-virgins and rape the virgins in lands that they usurp in conquest.

    Most religions in their orthodox forms repress women to the point of near-slavery. That’s why they call it a patriarchy. Fueling the anti-Islam fire with tired non-objective fuel that basically supports the West’s goosestepping all over the Middle East is not helpful to anyone but the imperialists that gave you the fuel in the first place. The original article’s point was that not all Muslim women live in Sharia’a law, nor have to submit to the male fascism that gets attached to all Islam by western media. It is more propaganda for the masses to quiet their nagging consciences and support the imperialism.

    @poster name: Muslim on June 4, 2010
    How does having a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) make you an authority on writing styles? Anyone with a loan and a pen can get an MBA. Sorry to sound obnoxious, but your comment was pretty obnoxious in the first place.

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