May 28th, 2010 | Posted by: Chris Stedman
Today’s guest commentary comes from Eat The Damn Cake‘s Kate Fridkis, who we interviewed earlier this week. Kate recently attended a screening of the film Sex and the City 2, and we asked her to comment on the film’s purportedly insensitive attitude toward Muslims. Below is Kate’s reaction.
Sex and the City 2 was exactly what I expected it to be. Tired, emaciated, glitzy, and full of shoes and dresses with shocking shoulder pads. But I’ve watched the whole series and as a result, I feel obligated to go to the movies. Not that I can’t appreciate any aspect of the experience. Seriously, if I had that many outfits in my closet, I might like changing my clothes every five minutes too!
What I wasn’t quite prepared for was the regurgitation of that familiar comparison between “western” sexuality and “Muslim” prudishness. In “Abu Dhabi” (actually filmed in Marrakesh), the foursome experience every luxury imaginable, but are shocked by the strangeness of the natives’ attitudes towards women’s sexuality. There is certainly plenty that can be said about sexism, women’s oppression, and a need for cross-cultural evaluations of the concepts of sexual liberation, independence, and autonomy, but Sex and the City 2 instead rehashes some of the old arguments: America is the land of the sexually free, and its opposite is all Muslim countries, which are the lands of the sexually oppressed and repressed. Yet there is something extremely erotic and exotic about these places – like a scene from Arabian Nights.
And all Muslim women are definitely unhappy with their condition. In fact, when given the chance, women in the movie throw off their burqas and reveal the same blindingly sequined, garish fashion that the stars of the movie are wearing. This is their show of solidarity.
Overall, there is the distinct sense that Muslim culture exists both to gratify American tastes for the old-school exotic, while simultaneously providing grounds for self-righteous shock at the seemingly antiquated approach toward sex, and the subsequent self-satisfied pride at being associated with a culture that knows how good sex really is.
I can’t pretend, though, that parts of Abu Dhabi don’t actually cater to and attempt to consciously create this impression for Western visitors! And I can’t pretend that Sex and the City 2 should be held responsible for being as silly about Muslims as it is about everyone and everything else. But maybe there should’ve been more effort made here, since it’s obviously a sensitive and difficult topic.
Okay, so I haven’t been paying any attention to the ramp up to the release of Sex and City 2 because, well, I’ve zero interest in seeing it. But then I came across this article the other day on the Huffington Post pointing to a review by Stephen Farber at the Hollywood Reporter that says the film is “anti-Muslim” and that it is “at once proudly feminist and blatantly anti-Muslim, which means that it might confound liberal viewers.” Sky News elaborates: “One scene even features the four main characters being rescued by Muslim women who strip off their burkhas to reveal the stylish Western outfits they are concealing beneath their black robes.” And Hadley Freeman of the Daily Mail adds: “Not since 1942′s Arabian Nights has orientalism been portrayed so unironically. All Middle Eastern men are shot in a sparkly light with jingly jangly music just in case you didn’t get that these dusky people are exotic and different.”
A poll on the article has viewers split down the middle about whether the film sounds offensive or not. It’s probably a bit premature to say, but it doesn’t sound promising. It’ll be interesting to see how people react to the film, and whether or not the filmmakers come out and say anything about the criticisms already being leveled against it.
For a nice list of positive representations of Muslims in film and television, check out this list put together by Koldcast TV.