"Time is a funny thing. A decade can flash by in an uneventful second," Carrie Bradshaw says in the narrated introduction of Sex and the City 2, the 2010 feature film follow-up from the HBO series which takes the four dating-obsessed New Yorkers and drops them into the deserts of Abu Dhabi. And Carrie is right: Just like that, it has been a full decade since the release of one of the worst movies I've ever seen—or maybe even one of the worst movies ever made.
The series itself has had plenty of problematic elements since it premiered in 1998: Carrie manifests her own relationship problems; the characters' luxurious lifestyles don't make sense with their finances; and, despite its focus on sex, the show is quite regressive in many respects, such as one episode that shames a man for being uncircumcised. But everything bad about Sex and the City is cranked up to the max in Sex and the City 2, and then covered with an icky layer of Orientalism. At the time of its release, n+1's A.S. Hamrah called it "a low point in the history of American pop culture," and 10 years later, that remains true.
Sex and the City 2 is two hours and 27 minutes of straight cringe, and though I've rewatched it a masochistic number of times over the past year (because hey, it's on Netflix), I can't help but wonder every time: How did this god-awful movie get made?
Because I've watched it so frequently, I've catalogued the definite summary of Sex and the City 2's worst offenses—the scenes that make me ask myself if I, like Carrie and Big's on-and-off romance, feel some unexplained pull to fill my life with needless toxicity by continuing to watch this franchise. So, pack your bags, and let's take a trip with Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte to Abu Dhabi.
When Charlotte says, "Guys, shouldn't we be a little more PC?" at Stanford and Anthony's wedding.
A relatively minor offense, this scene sets the tone for this mess of a movie. With Charlotte's suggestion, you remember that Sex and the City's premise is rich white women whispering their real thoughts at the brunch table, though those racist, homophobic, and otherwise problematic ideas would get them canceled if they said them out loud anywhere else. Moving on!
Things get bad the second they encounter a person of color.
Despite being set in New York City, Sex and the City is really, really bad about race: The characters date a total of three (three!!!) people of color over the show's six seasons (out of 95 to 108 different partners, according to VICE's Sara David), and as Vulture's Hunter Harris noted, the few characters of color are either stereotypes or punchlines (there's Samantha's angry Latina girlfriend, and the Asian maid who kicks Samantha out of a man's bed). Take that troubled background and set Sex and the City 2 in the United Arab Emirates, and you've got a white gaze fantasy of people of color as jokes and accessories.
Every man from Abu Dhabi is a servant who chases after the women at the airport to ferry their bags, drives them around in brand new Maybachs, or works as individual butlers in their lavish hotel suite. Meanwhile, every woman in Abu Dhabi—all of whom are dressed in niqabs or burkinis—is treated as something for the girls to gawk at.
On that note, there's the awful scene by the pool featuring a woman in a niqab.
While enjoying their hotel, the women are constantly shocked by the cultural norms around them, and at one point, Carrie stares and talks seemingly within earshot about a woman who lifts her veil to eat one French fry at a time, staring at her as though she's a tourist attraction.
Presumably, what we're supposed to gather is a reminder of just how "progressive" New York women like Carrie and Samantha are, and the implication of the entire movie is that women in the Middle East just want to be more like them. Not great!
When they ride camels in the desert, set to generic snake charmer-esque music.
Stereotypes? Sex and the City 2 is absolutely teeming with them.
Samantha saying the line, "Lawrence of my labia."
Sex and the City's wordplay always skirted the line between clever and embarassing, and the movie is no different. Arriving in Abu Dhabi, Miranda says in a Scooby Doo tone, "We've got a lot of Abu Dhabi to do—Abu Dhabi do." At one point, Carrie uses the phrase "land of the free and home of the horny."
None of these are as bad as when Samantha sees a handsome European architect in the desert, says something about feeling things "down under," and then sing-songs the phrase "Lawrence of my labia," referring to the 1962 historical epic featuring blackface. This line will haunt me for the rest of my days.
The karaoke scene. Oh god, the karaoke scene.
I try not to make fun of anyone doing karaoke because in a karaoke bar, we're all just trying our best, but the movie's karaoke scene cannot go unscathed. At a club, Miranda signs the group up to sing, and they're called onstage for a rendition of Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman."
With lines like "I am woman, hear me roar," the scene is clearly supposed to be some sort of feminist moment. But this sudden depiction of performative womanhood isn't very believable—Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte consistently have no problem undercutting every other woman they encounter. The anthem prompts women around the club, all pointedly women of color, to stand up and sing along, as though their feminism has been ignited by the tacky stylings of four white ladies from New York.
My boyfriend saw a few seconds of this scene and then said with a confused look, "Is this supposed to be cringey?" I still don't know the answer.
Samantha fellates a hookah pipe, basically.
The central tension of Sex and the City 2 is the difference in norms between New York and the Middle East, and Samantha, who must prove to everyone just how hot and horny she is despite repeated reminders from her friends to please cover up, is unfortunately the best example.
On a date, after the handsome architect shows her how to smoke shisha, Samantha simulates oral sex on the pipe, saying seductively, "You put this pipe in your mouth… and suck?" This happens in front of the watchful eyes of a shocked local couple. Samantha ups the ante by grabbing the architect's crotch, and when Samantha and her date leave to carry on elsewhere, we see a side view of his erection in front of the scandalized couple's faces.
Aside from playing on stereotypes about the conservative Middle East, it's a middle finger to other culture's norms. That said, is sucking sexually on a hookah pipe and then grabbing dick in public really widely acceptable anywhere?
The final showdown in the souk is why everyone hates Americans.
Forced out of their hotel after Samantha gets busted for having sex in public, the women take a last-minute trip to the souk. After the "forbidden experience" of getting roped into buying counterfeit merchandise, Samantha is chased by a man who rips her Birkin bag, causing her Magnum condoms to spill everywhere. With her boobs half out, Samantha yells in the middle of the crowd of men, "Condoms! Condoms, yes! I have sex!"
This angers everyone in the souk, and honestly, Samantha deserves it for not having learned from her previous missteps—all of which could have been avoided if she just respected other cultures. Self-centered behavior like this is probably why American tourists have such a bad reputation around the world, and Sex and the City 2 definitely doesn't help matters.
From there, they engage in bizarre niqab cosplay, and then the women head back to New York, where their messy behavior and off-putting personalities are inexplicably tolerated.
So, should you rewatch Sex and the City 2? Maybe… but only as a hatewatch.