Entertainment

Does 'Sex and the City 2' Actually Suck?

The notoriously bad sequel's issues extend far past its problematic territory.
August 15, 2017, 3:45pm

Sex and the City's debut in 1998 was a seminal moment in pop culture. Whether you loved or loathed Carrie Bradshaw, you couldn't deny that the show was riveting, punchy, and sexy as it dealt with relatable issues surrounding sex and dating. We were given four fashionable, witty women discussing blowjobs with as much nonchalance as if it were a new Thai restaurant. They weren't trying to be revolutionary: They just felt entitled to sexual pleasure, and they refused to be shamed for it. That was something that women everywhere could enjoy watching, and the reason why SATC had such a successful run—that is, until the final, most ill-advised installment in the series: Sex and the City 2.

As the movie opens, our four leads are all doing well—happy and settled in their respective marriages (Samantha is happily single). Except, wait a minute: They're not happy! Carrie's husband would rather watch TV in bed than take her out, Miranda feels marginalized at work, Charlotte is upset because her attractive nanny doesn't wear bras around the house, and Samantha's libido dies if she doesn't take estrogen pills. The worst thing any of them can imagine is a long-distance flight in Economy class. It's as if the writers were competing to make the lowest-stakes movie of all time, which is a pity: The real problems of marriage are rich subject territory and would have made for a much better movie.

There are a few redeeming touches: the fashion, the cinematography that manages to capture the energy of the city, the girls' quick quips. When asked how she's going to swallow a large handful of pills, Samantha retorts: "Have you met me?"

After a quick gay wedding that seems shoehorned into the plot, the action shifts to Abu Dhabi, where a sheik has hired Samantha to do a PR campaign. The others decide to accompany her, because they have Orientalist fantasies about the Middle East (Carrie keeps describing it as "the land of magic carpets"). It's a narrative decision that had potential—_what would the girls do in a city that wasn't New York?—_but ends up being a mishmash of liberal racist fantasies.

SATC has always been blindingly white. Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte represent a narrow slice of privileged New York, and there are only a handful of cameos by people of color. So we were never entirely sure how the show felt about women of color: Was Carrie a White Feminist™? Do her feminist values extend to nonwhite women? It's a question that feels particularly relevant in the Trump era, where we know that 53 percent of white women were so invested in whiteness that they voted for Trump.

SATC 2 provides a disquieting answer. From the moment that the four girls land in Abu Dhabi, they act as if they're going on a cultural safari. Despite Miranda's half-hearted pleas for them to dress appropriately, they wear the same risqué ensembles they would wear to a New York club (with a gauzy scarf as accessory). They pull faces when they taste Arabic coffee, and they "ooh" and "aah" over cheap shoes are at the local souk. These scenes are more awkward than painful: After all, the girls are just oblivious in the grand tradition of Western tourists. Until, that is, they see a veiled woman eating French fries.

All four are simultaneously fascinated and disgusted by the sight and stare at her like a zoo animal. Carrie says, "It's like they don't want them to have a voice." (The movie treats this observation as if it's fresh and cutting, and as if the trope of the voiceless Muslim woman wasn't a major white feminist talking point).

They stare with equal fascination when they are introduced to their brown manservants. As strains of vaguely-Eastern-sounding music play, they whisper "We each get our own butler!" to one another, like something out of an Edward Said-ian nightmare. It's not the cheeky, subversive gaze that they turn on the Australian men's rubgy team: This is the familiar, objectifying gaze of whiteness.

The third act of the movie—the most explicitly "feminist"—is the worst of all. Samantha is arrested for publicly kissing a man she has dubbed "Lawrence of My Labia." Although she has been cautioned that public embraces are against the law in Abu Dhabi, she is shocked and offended by her arrest. "Outrageous! It was just a kiss," she splutters, unable to comprehend any attitudes that do not mirror her own. When she is let off—as white women inevitably are—she remains ignorant of her privilege. She goes so far as to brandish condoms in the middle of a crowded marketplace, screaming: "I have condoms! I have SEX! Bite me!"

It is Arab women who ultimately rescue Samantha after this incredibly tasteless pronouncement, diverting the angry men who are after her. SATC 2 attempts to portray this as a gesture of sisterhood—after all, the Arab women are wearing the latest Louis Vuitton under their burkas—but it feels incredibly patronizing. There's no question that we are meant to feel sorry for the Arab women, and admire Samantha (who ends up having sex in "the land of the free"). The movie does not ever seem to consider that Arab women are capable of rebelling on their own terms, or that they have agency of any kind. Au contraire, the feminist acts here are white women declaring themselves as sexual, or showing off their legs to grab a cab. Their complete inability to grasp cultural nuance is framed as radical.

This is the central failure of SATC 2: It's no longer relatable to women everywhere. (In fact, I can't imagine relating to it at all unless you're rich, white, and own two New York apartments.) It is insulting, bratty, and superficial. What it does provide is unintentional satire. It is a textbook example of the failures of white feminism. When the four women say to each other, "Men don't matter: We're soulmates," we know that they're only here for one another.

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