In a period when the western critics and bashers have been having a ball at our expense, should we be relieved or concerned that our capital is making an appearance in cinemas all over the world this May 27th?
The trailer to the much-anticipated sequel of Sex and the City has dropped and the girls’ next adventure unfolds in no other place but our capital Abu Dhabi. The trailer shows Carrie and the gang whisked away from New York City for an all-expenses paid week in Abu Dhabi. It shows the girls riding camels, lazing on the poolside of extravagance and hitting the nightclubs that are apparently full of belly dancers. Your typical Edward Said notion of Orientalism, only dressed in designer from head to toe.
The movie was initially set to be filmed in Dubai yet the authorities refused to give filming clearance. The grapevine has it that clearance was to be granted if the movie’s name was changed to Love and the City but that offer was obviously not accepted. The movie was finally shot in Morocco, but the destination in the film remained our capital Abu Dhabi.
The media is finding it ironic that Sex and The City 2, just like its prequel, might not even be screened in the Emirates. But the refusal of filming in the country and the absence of the movie in our theatres are both attempts from the UAE to control and maintain brand Emirates. In a period when the western critics and bashers have been having a ball at our expense, should we be relieved or concerned that our capital is making an appearance in cinemas all over the world this May 27th?
The local reactions are mixed. Some people are welcoming what they view as a pleasant and fun image of the country that has been suppressed with all the negative media about the financial situation and the latest tragedy of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh’s assassination.
Others are concerned with the hidden message that the movie might be sending. After all, the trailer invites the world to “discover how much fun forbidden can be.” The portrayal of Abu Dhabi as a playground for the rich, where everything and anything goes, is far detached from reality. Yes, our capital is a decadent city that boasts many luxuries and splendour but it is also where all our culture and traditions are embedded. It is Zayed’s city, where extravagance and subtle conservatism are the essence of its beauty and pride.
Many Arab and African countries have been featured in Western movies in the past. The most famous of which Lawrence of Arabia, starring Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif, was shot in Jordan and Morocco. And the latest depiction of the war in Iraq, conceptualised by Kathryn Bigelow, in her Oscar winning movie The Hurt Locker was also shot in Jordan.
If there are any concerns or objections, they do not exist out of mere refusal of filming a movie or using the country’s name, they do not come from ignorance but spur from the logic and political realisation that such associations should be monitored and selected according to what the country deems to be an appropriate representation.
The United Arab Emirates is known around the world for its patronage of the arts, embracing the art world in all its forms. Abu Dhabi is creating an unprecedented step towards realising the dream of bringing the arts even closer to its people by building goliath art museums such as the Louvre and the Guggenheim. Both the Abu Dhabi and Dubai international film festivals continue to thrive with worldwide works being selected and viewed every year. Culture is alive and well in the UAE.
In certain interviews that touch upon the subject we find the cast of the movie explaining that whatever may have been said about the culture is all in good humour and that it is simply an attempt to remain true to the characters. Yet the concern is neither about the characters nor the movie. Many of us in this region are quite familiar with what Samantha’s character would do and Miranda’s would say regardless of the setting, for the TV show, the movies are based on, aired in its entirety on certain Arab TV networks. The concern comes from the distorted and highly exaggerated impression the movie will give about the country.
Quite how far the movie has gone with its representation of Abu Dhabi will only be known on May 27th. Until then, we are left with an image of Charlotte’s little girl asking, “is it like Jasmine and Aladdin”? and Carrie sheepishly answering: “Yes sweetie, but with cocktails.”
This article was published in The Gulf Today newspaper on 23rd of May, 2010.