"Sex and the City 2" v. "Agora": How will you escape?
This weekend, two movies starring two of Hollywood's most famous Jewesses are opening. One is the glitzy explosion of Sex and the City 2 (SATC2) starring Sarah Jessica Parker and the other is the relatively quiet premiere of Agora, starring Rachel Weisz. SATC2 is the 2nd movie in the SATC franchise that follows the "girls" (as they continue to be called despite their age) as they navigate marriage, motherhood and menopause by escaping to Abu Dhabi. Agora is a historical drama set in Roman Egypt. Rachel Weisz plays Hypatia of Alexandria, a philosophy professor, scientist, and atheist. Which are you planning to see?
SATC has always been problematic in terms of feminism. While the show was progressive on many levels in its heyday, its rampant consumerism, cookie-cutter gender stereotypes, and complete indifference to the reality of women who are not wealthy has tainted its earlier success. The movies, especially the second one it seems, represent a last-ditch effort to at least pretend to address real issues for a few minutes between shopping sprees. But the problem remains that "real issues" for wealthy women living in Manhattan are not the same as "real issues" for everybody else.
In one scene from the trailer, Charlotte is baking cupcakes with her daughters, one of whom plants strawberry handprints on her butt. She cries, "Oh, my vintage Valentino!" How many mothers do you know that cook with young children in designer clothing? I have not yet seen the film (but lets be honest, I will soon enough) but the reviews explain that this scene leads to a heart-to-heart between mothers Charlotte and Miranda (who both have live-in nannies) about just how hard it is, and how hard it must be without help. If this particularly scathing review in The Stranger by Lindy West is any indication, there's a reason reviewers are dubbing this a "feminist fail."
Agora, on the other hand, seems to be faring much better. While it is a rather long epic, it is being called "high minded" and celebrated for featuring an intelligent, inquisitive, woman. Natasha Senjanovic writes in The Hollywood Reporter: "She is the only one who never sacrifices her unwavering "faith," in reason and intellectual freedom, for personal gain." After taking a look at some reviews and this fabulous interview with Rachel Weisz at Women & Hollywood, it's easy to think of Agora as the answer to the sins of SATC2.
But I wonder if the appeal of historical epics like Agora have to do with a nostalgia for a time when feminism was simpler. In an age when we wage wars on "drugs" and "terror," it's not surprising that we relish in old-time gangster movies and World War II epics where the enemy was clear and the fight made sense. In a world where "third wave feminism" is still defining itself, it's soothing to think back to when feminism was simpler -- when all it took to make a feminist heroine was to put a female character with some agency in a setting in which women usually had none. Today, creating a feminist heroine is a bit more complicated, especially when "feminism" itself has become so unclear.
Perhaps SATC2 is an addled representation of our own confusion. Is it feminist to have a nanny and still find motherhood challenging? Is it feminist to engage in unabashed consumerism you can afford because of your successful career? Is it feminist to buy into traditional standards of beauty if you choose to do so? Is it feminist to wear heels? In an age where Sarah Palin can call herself a feminist, it's no wonder we look back to the 4th Century for a simpler, more straightforward story.
Perhaps we are being too hard on SATC2. We can't expect Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte to be feminists when we haven't yet figured out what a modern feminist should look like. Hell, maybe we are being too hard on ourselves. Whether not we choose to see SATC2 or Agora over the holiday weekend -- whether we choose to visit Abu Dhabi with the "girls" or the 4th Century with Rachel Weisz -- there's nothing wrong with wanting an escape.