Sex and the City 2: Orientalist Boogaloo


Sara, Yusra, Safiyyah, and Fatemeh are here for your MMW SATC2 breakdown! We’re here for a frank discussion about the movie—so take note that there may be some serious spoilers after the jump.

Ladies, start your engines!

Yusra: I read all the reviews bashing it for being boring and not living up to the series, and of course for being what many defined as anti-Muslim or offensive to Muslim women. I didn’t even want to see it. Whenever I saw the previews of the fabulous four among the sand dunes, I couldn’t help rolling my eyes. I went in thinking, “Oh, God, this is gonna be torture,” and maybe that’s why I didn’t think it was that bad.

I actually laughed and enjoyed myself, and nudged my friend when the cute Muslim men were made into servants for the women, and I appreciated the scenes when Carrie and Big argue over their not so exciting but “very married” relationship.

Sara: We have come a long way from the Carrie Bradshaw with an unruly mop, musing away on her black Apple laptop. As a long time fan of The Sex and the City series, the film felt sloppy, and was a continuation of Bradshaw & Co.’s steps away from the smart commentary on the sex lives of women, and turns more towards ridiculous fashion and stereotypes.

Fatemeh: Totally. The ladies of SATC aren’t what they were. Samantha has become a terrible cougar caricature, and the rest of them are just plain boring. Any feminism that was in the original series has been trussed to death with accessories—SATC2 is just porn for rich western women. I counted at least three or four screen shots dedicated solely to Carrie’s shoes.

And I thought Aidan and Carrie’s “chance meeting” in the bazaar was just plain lazy writing. I mean, really? Throwing in a huge old flame like Aidan felt like a half-assed plot twist.

Speaking of clothing, all of the turbans and harem pants were really getting to me. Patricia Field, the SATC stylist, explained her choices to The Huffington Post, and she does an incredible job of reducing the complicated political, religious, and social history of the Middle East into sequined harem pants.

The ladies of SATC2 go native. Image via The Huffington Post.

Sara: Carrie and her friends enter tacky territory: a trip into their very own Orientalist fantasy. Upon a first encounter with Muslim women—which obviously do not exist in New York City!—the women treat the sighting as if they are visiting the zoo, with Miranda as their tour guide.

Yusra: A lot of people took issue with the stereotypes enhanced in the flat dialogue and poor plot. References to magic carpets and oppressed women are there, but I didn’t find it offensive. Don’t get me wrong—it was Orientalist gloss form start to finish, but when an American visits the Middle East for the first time, they want to look at a woman eat French fries underneath her burqa. Even I want to do that!

Fatemeh: I had major issues with that scene—watching a woman who wears niqab wear French fries like she’s the main attraction on a zoo tour? Hell, no!

Sara: The film draws the line at what is acceptable. Covering the head: okay. Covering the mouth: not okay. The group agrees that it is synonymous with the women being silenced. The women are then in for a treat, as the object of their wonder begins to eat French fries underneath her niqab (or neek-wab, as Miranda prefers to pronounce it). I was heartbroken to see characters that I love use women in hijab as a punch line, which felt like a lazy replacement for better writers.

Safiyyah: I was still livid at the portrayal of Muslim women as subdued and shrouded characters, with “no voice” in the words of Samantha herself. Belly dancers, niqabis, burqinis, and humorless bearded men all make their appearance with disastrous effect.

Sara: The film makes wide assumptions about Muslim women, without having the main characters interact with them, furthering this image of Muslim women as something to be commented on.

Fatemeh: The ridiculous getaway scene with the foursome wearing niqabs was just so ridiculous. And dripping with irony: first, they agree that the niqab is restrictive. Then it ends up granting them safe passage through a mob of stereotypical angry Arab dudes.

That entire souk sequence—when Samantha’s purse broke and spilled condoms everywhere, which for some reason provoked the ire of every Arab male within a mile radius, causing Samantha to flip off everyone, and then the women in niqab “saved” the foursome after whipping off their abayas to showcase designer duds—it was just too much.

The film reinforced the standoffish attitude westerners have to Muslim-majority countries. Samantha’s middle finger isn’t a valiant push against conservatism, it’s a big “Eff you!” to intercultural respect. Rather than realizing that they were guests in a country that has different rules from their own, the fearsome foursome acted like Abu Dhabi was a sandbox at the playground where they could play “Arabian Nights” themed-dress up.

Yusra: This scene seems intent on portraying American women as sluts who are proud of their promiscuity, and the Middle East as anti-sex and anti-women-having-sex. Of course neither is true, but watching this movie affirms every stereotype you have ever heard about the U.S. and The Middle East.

Ubiquitous camel rides! Image via The Huffington Post.

The tiny effort that was made to explain anything was when Miranda reads out of her travel guide book and bids her friends to respect Arab culture. However, Samantha is bent on disrespecting it by trying to show how ridiculous it is, even though she is the one who is ridiculous. Take for example her run-in with the law after “just kissing” on a beach. She’s jailed for it, and acts like she didn’t do anything wrong, like the Muslims are intolerant, when even in the U.S., public indecency is a crime!

Sara: A major theme in the movie is that of the “New Middle East,” in which the Middle East is relentlessly accused of not being able to modernize itself, despite all the modern technology and luxury that the women encounter. Modernity, in their eyes, is only achievable with the West as a barometer.

Safiyyah: The “saving grace” scene at the end, in which the Muslim women throw off their garb to reveal the latest collections from New York’s catwalks and pull out copies of some beauty bible to discuss in their book club, is even worse because it smacks of condescension. As if women are only liberated when they meet Western standards of beauty, read Western books and wear Western clothing. Not that I expected much more from that bunch.

The references to Islam, women and culture are thrown together without distinction and never contextualized. The least that could have been done was an attempt at inter-faith and cross-cultural dialogue, which would have left the movie in much better stead, instead of the empty, one-dimensional, robotic representations of Muslim women and Islam.

Sara: The most annoying quality was the treatment of sex in the film. The main character was the sexual frustration of Abu Dhabi, the conservatism that silences the sex in the city.  I am not angry that they pointed out inequalities, but rather, that they showed a very simplistic version of oppression. Just as gender based inequality is complex in the United States, it is also complex in the Middle East.

Fatemeh: SATC2 left plenty of issues untouched. I thought the interaction between Carrie and Gaurav, her Indian manservant (neo-colonialism, ahoy!), could have introduced the topic of migrant labor in the Gulf, but the subject matter was much too heavy for a bougie froth-fest, so it never went anywhere. Why bring these issues up if not to explore them? This was perhaps SATC2’s attempt to dodge accusations of using brown people as scene props, but it fell flat.

And when the four are in a nightclub, Charlotte asks why the belly dancers get to wear skimpy clothing while Miranda tells everyone else to cover up. Miranda chalks it up to a “belly dancer/nightclub loophole,” not what it most likely is: human trafficking. Their karaoke rendition of “I Am Woman” rings pretty hollow when you realize that a lot of the “single women” in Emirati nightclubs are trafficked sex workers.

Readers, did you see SATC2 this weekend? What did you think?

Of Indian Marriage Laws and Conversions: The Case of Saifeena
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“Torn”: A Tale of Tolerance and Doubt
On Hany Abu Asad’s Omar and the “Missing Voice” of Women
  • Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist

    I agree with Sara’s comment about how both American & Middle Eastern women are horribly portrayed in this film (white women=sluts, Arab women=prudes).

    I advise all my Muslims sisters not to waste their money on this SATC 2 garbage, racist, sexist, homophobic Orientalist crap.

    Rather, I urge you all to go see the new romantic comedy film (which happens to be well done & intelligent) called JUST WRIGHT. By seeing the film, you will support a movie written, directed and produced by a woman (who happens to be Arab American) and starring two people of color (Queen Latifah, Common) in strong, leading roles


  • Azra

    I felt like I was watching a documentary… or some kind of travel show: an introduction to Abu Dhabi (shot in Morocco).

    And I agree with most of the points here.

    I just thought that there was a part of the movie, where Carrie tells the ladies (through implication and in not so many words) that just because Western men aren’t vocal or don’t complain about their independant women, it doesn’t mean that they are any different from Eastern men, because if they had it their way, Western men would prefer their women in the kitchen too (just like Big secretly wanted Carrie to be in the kitchen and not have to eat out/ order out every night). Men are men, the proverbial hunters, and most want the same things, regardless of race, culture or religion.

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  • SakuraPassion

    I agree with what’s been said here. One of the things I hate most about SATC in general is that it comes off as consumerism=liberation. I mean I know it’s SATC and I didn’t really expect them to delve all that deep into the issues that have been raised here, but seriously?

    In the end, it just “hey everyone, women in the Middle East are just as shallow and consumerist as women in the West!!” That’s how if came off to me.

  • Michelle

    I agree with all of the above comments. I am an avid fan of SATC and was very excited to see this movie in spite of all the negative reviews. I enjoyed the movie and laughed and got excited and yet, I was disappointed with the writer’s needs to exploit stereotypes on both sides of the equation.
    I felt like this was an opportunity to learn more about another culture which has become such a big part of my everyday life as an American. What a great time to dispel and discuss the western stereotypical view of the women and men in muslim-majority countries and unite us as WOMEN. I am curious about the burqa and the “call to prayer”, why not have INTERACTION with these women, as other commenters have suggested and answer more of our curious questions instead of turning these into NEGATIVES. I was very disap[ointed when the women pulled off their burqas and displayed their faces, hair and body in WESTERN clothing. This was really stepping over the line for me.
    On the one hand I understand the glamour that we women are looking for and that we love the fantasy of expensive clothes etc. but on the other hand why aren’t the women of Abu Dhabi wearing their own fashion statements? (Aside from the embroidered burqa which I thought was a cool comment). Clearly a country with their own growing economy and industry, innovation and mix of modernity and HISTORY has their own STYLE. They would have done well to introduce the foursome (and the rest of us) to a new kind of fashion that is not based in NY City. After all, wouldn’t a fashionista be looking for something unique to take back home and show off??

    I still love SATC, however, I was disappointed with the writers on this movie.

  • Diane

    A really interesting perspective. I appreciate the insight from people who understand the culture more than most reviewers (and much more than the film’s writers).

    I’m interested what you thought of Charlotte’s decision not to give her last name as Goldenblatt, “because it’s the Middle East”, which seemed really culturally insensitive. (Is there any likelihood she would have been treated badly at the posh hotel because of it? It just seemed like an unnecessary line, and I’m not sure if it was supposed to be funny or what.)

  • Melinda

    Thanks for suffering through this painfully bad mess of stereotypes to provide such a great analysis. I definitely won’t be watching this movie, but now I know exactly how it turned out to be the Orientalist disaster it promised to be.

  • DaisyDeadhead

    The “saving grace” scene at the end, in which the Muslim women throw off their garb to reveal the latest collections from New York’s catwalks and pull out copies of some beauty bible to discuss in their book club, is even worse because it smacks of condescension.

    OMG, this sounds like the worst thing I have ever heard… its almost like what you’d see in a Doris Day movie from the early 60s!

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  • Racquel

    I agree with this article completely- the writing was sloppy, lacked insight, and perpetrated stereotypes. Honestly, during the movie, my thoughts ranged from, “Ah, that is so beautiful!” to “This movie is so very dumb.”

    And I agree that Samantha should have shown a lot more respect to the country and the people with which she was interacting. There are a number of examples of this and other stereotypes; all in all, it was a frustrating movie to get through, and I’m surprised more people aren’t upset by it.

    But I wonder, how does the American wishing to get educated about the migrant workers in the gulf or the sexual trafficking get educated about these things? Furthermore, how does she become more educated about sexual norms in Middle Eastern countries so she can gain facts and perspective? I’d like to know so I can make sure I quash my own stereotypes.

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  • britton

    Some things I noticed that have not been mentioned above:

    I found the “I am Woman” karaoke scene nauseatingly patriotic. As the camera panned on women of all nationalities and age groups, it was as if each woman was being inspired by rich, white Americans to achieve “freedom” in their own cultures.
    The “saving grace” scene also seemed to stereotype just women of any background, by showing the “they’re just like us!” factor. Apparently, the only thing women in the Middle East have in common with women in the US is that they love to shop. (Obviously, because ALL women love to shop.)

    There was more, but is was too bad to remember.

  • Amy B

    Thank you for this. As a white women, I wasn’t sure how to react to it all. It didn’t seem right for me to be offended on behalf of the women they were representing, but I was offended at the idea that’s how Western women would act in such a different culture.

  • Megan

    Thanks so much for this piece–I had a number of issues with the film despite being a big SATC fan, and I desperately wanted to response of people who were familiar with both the series and the culture so flatly portrayed in the film.

    I was really troubled by how the group seemed to assume that the rules and culture norms wouldn’t apply to them–because they’re Americans, I guess? Before we even get into how deeply disrespectful that is, I hate that they reinforced the stereotype of the bad American tourist. Some of us do research destinations and try to fit in!

    I am curious, though, about the so-called getaway scene. Fatemeh, you note that the scene was “dripping with irony: first, they agree that the niqab is restrictive. Then it ends up granting them safe passage…” Could this irony be a good thing–could this be the women learning that the clothing they have defined as so repressive and restrictive could, in fact, have more dimensions? I don’t think it’s a ridiculous sentiment, though I wish any of the lessons learned could have been addressed and not just alluded to.


    This movie managed to insult white non Muslim women and Arab Muslim women all at the same time! What a feat! And I thought SJP was being deliberately disingenuous when she pretty much lied and said this movie was about “observing women of faith” and “seeing the world through a different lens” as though the characters were immersing themselves into a foreign culture out of respect and understanding for it. As Racialicious’ Latoya Peterson astutely noted, instead of respect and understanding you see the characters openly mocking the “niqabi” eating fries and the “dour, sexually conservative” Muslim masses.

    And may I ask how is a woman grabbing a strange man’s penis in public meant to be funny? To me it’s akin to sexual assault but I guess since a guy’s the victim here it’s supposed to be funny hardy har har just like when a guy is the victim of rape and domestic violence. And of the characters Samantha sounded especially pathetic and ill mannered.

  • Samantha (no, not that one)

    Seriously, folks, you expected SATC to be anything other than shallow? I get all your points, and agree with most of them. There were parts of the movie that seemed to me to be extremely contrived, and some that made me cringe outright – but this is supposed to be lighthearted fluff. That’s the whole idea. As for having the SATC gals interact with Muslim women – when have they *ever* had any meaningful interaction with anyone? I think having the girls go to a Muslim country was perhaps not the best writing choice given the nature of the film, but actually give the writers kudos for trying to do *anything* to educate the American public, even if it’s just Miranda reading from a guidebook.


    While a lot of ridiculous stereotypes were reinforced in a what the writers seemed to have thought was a pragmatic understanding of Muslim vs. West I enjoyed the fact that Samantha and the characters disagreed so strongly with the politics of oppression and silence that comes with the niqab. The way that they showcase an opposition was wrong in having the local women dressed in NY fashion when they disrobed, like they were truly western underneath it all. The portrayal of Muslim women and Islam was robotic when an increased inter-cultural dialogue could have succeeded in opening discourse to a huge number of viewers. SANC was a hyper-westernized and extremist view of the Middle East. It fed into serious beliefs that so many Westerners perceive to be true of Islam that reinforce Orientalist views but the movie complied with the disapproval of the oppression of Muslim women, using it as entertainment.

  • Aviva

    I watched the film yesterday and had to shake my head in disbelief for most of it. I am truly saddened because I enjoyed the series and expected a lot more from this second film. I have to agree with the views expressed above. This film reduced Muslim women and culture to props that were used by the western characters. Gay people were also used for easy laughs. However, I’m not surprised because SATC has always used people of color and queer people as one-dimensional props. I WAS surprised because this movie managed to reduce the main four characters to caricatures of themselves. What happened to Samantha??

    I was really disappointed by the writing. They portrayed Abu Dhabi as an extremely oppressive place to Arab and Muslim women. Yet, how ironic was it that the western women were only able to express discontent with their own constrained lives (as women in New York) when they were away in another country. -A country that Samantha is meant to make us believe is much worse to women!

    I am saddened that instead of talking about how women everywhere experience sexism AND RESIST IT, the characters of SATC used their desert setting to escape, feel “liberated” and feel better about their sucky lives at home.It would have been a lot more interesting to me if we had seen them explore some of those issues with Muslim characters who were dealing with similar things, instead of simply seeing the fairytale resolutions to these issues after their vacation. e.g. Carrie’s punishment for wanting more than her boring “naggy bitch wife” role is having to submit to it; Charlotte’s monster kids are still monster kids … but thank god for the (lesbian) help!, and Miranda wanting more than to be a stay-at-home mom…. (well, that one kinda worked out, I think).

    I have to say that the film’s redeeming factor for me was the fashion. Although over the top and orientalist at points, some of those clothes were mad cute. On that front, the movie delivered. I just wish the characters had stayed in New York or done a better job of accurately portraying the Middle East.

  • Andrea

    [Editor's note: This comment has been edited down for relevance to fit in with our comment moderation guidelines. We want to stick to the movie's portrayal of Muslim women and not get bogged down in unrelated plot points.]

    The movie could have educated and been funny and sexy, but it seriously fell short of that. At the beginning of the movie, I thought (being a stupid American with a horrible experience abroad under my belt) that “Oh wow”, SATC 2 is gonna show light upon the Middle East, moreover Abu Dhabi and demonstrate to a very wide audience all the positive connotations places like these lack due to its poor representation in the American media. Toward the end of the movie, I did not OBVIOUSLY feel the same way. I thought OMG (knowing next to nothing about Abu Dhabi) that this is a place that I wouldn’t really want to go to, due to how uncomfortable I could feel, seeing as though I am a woman and the film makes more than enough references to the fact that women are oppressed in the Middle East. Smh.

    All in all, I cannot lie, I laughed plenty during the SATC 2 movie, and I just hoped that SATC (the series) would have traded Part Deux for an additional season in the show, but we cant have it all. lol.

  • Peter

    You should all check out this review of the film by Lindy West..

    Here’s an excerpt:

    “Samantha removes most of her clothes in the middle of the spice bazaar, throws condoms in the faces of the angry and bewildered crowd, and screams, “I AM A WOMAN! I HAVE SEX!” Thus, traditional Middle Eastern sexual mores are upended and sexism is stoned to death in the town square.

    At sexism’s funeral (which takes place in a mysterious, incense-shrouded chamber of international sisterhood), the women of Abu Dhabi remove their black robes and veils to reveal—this is not a joke—the same hideous, disposable, criminally expensive shreds of cloth and feathers that hang from Carrie et al.’s emaciated goblin shoulders. Muslim women: Under those craaaaaaay-zy robes, they’re just as vapid and obsessed with physical beauty and meaningless material concerns as us! Feminism! F— yeah!”

    • Fatemeh

      @Andrea: Please do not form an opinion of Abu Dhabi from SATC2. You’ve got to be kidding me.

      @Peter: I liked parts of Lindy’s review, but the last line really turned me off b/c of its use of stereotypes. Veiling and sewing up holes? C’mon.

  • April

    I was a much bigger fan of the show than I have been of either of the movies, but was particularly disappointed by this one. It’s one of a dozen films that have come out in the last year or two where a group of non-Westerners are initially misunderstood by Westerners and ultimately either saved by Western culture (see also: Avatar) or were approved by the Westerners, because deep-down all they wanted was to be just like Americans! Samantha spent the entire film disrespecting the culture and then (shockingly!) gets arrested for it.
    Furthermore, why is it that none of the foursome had any interest in any of the Arab men in the film? We had gratuitous shots of an Australian rugby team, Aidan transplanted for no reason (other than to follow a foolish plotline into Carrie’s self-absorbed behavior causing her to do something stupid), Samantha going on a date with a Danish guy… what about the men who live in the country? What were the film’s writers trying to accomplish? I think the film would have been far more interesting if they had managed to do anything even a little bit daring. Instead, they relegated all people in Muslim countries into two categories: angry yelling men who hate women’s sexuality and the meek subdued women following them around. Really a sad display.
    Also, was it just me, or did all of them spend their entire trip in Abu Dhabi looking terrible? The wardrobe were not only culturally ridiculous but also just looked dreadful.

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  • tanja

    I am a croatian born girl with a muslim background and now live in australia.I must say i feel like everyone is looking too deeply into this and that it’s really just SITC..The characters were just being themselves in a different place. You couldn’t have samantha NOT doing what she did in the movie because then she wouldn’t be samantha! I think these characters did stay true to their characters even though the plot was shallow,slow and excruciating most of the time. I think also that the writers were actually trying to stand on the side of the women in the world rather than muslim vs western, and yes they did fail because they stereotyped but at least they brought it up . I must say i feel it is very important to shine a light on women’s freedom issues outlined in the movie especially on such a huge platform which will reach a huge audience. There are women still getting killed in Pakistan and other countries for terribly innocent things and i feel like the women there do not have a voice or the strenght to rise up against the men and fight for their rights.
    Im sorry women, i am muslim but maybe it IS time for some bra burning in the middle east!!

  • Jamie

    The more I hear about this movie, the more terribly sexist it seems towards ALL women. Anybody notice that the director was a guy? A guy who thinks it’s funny to “stick Samantha in Abu Dhabi”, according to his own commentary. Oh, and if we take him seriously, the only reason for this sequel is to cash in on the success of the first movie.

    In other words, this movie never cared a DAMN about the culture it was set in, its characters’ previous developments, its story, etc. All the director cared about was making money at the expense of women, by showing them all as shallow and stupid and frequently whorish. And he expected women, the original series’ primary audience, to pay HIM for the privilege of being insulted.

    I get that comedy only “works” if it features conflict or failure, i.e. generally involving the mocking of human stupidity… but it also has to have a ring of reality to it to “work”, and characters that are more than sexist caricatures (who themselves sound a wee bit racist and naturally, more than a wee bit privileged-ly ignorant) would, you know, kind of be nice.

    As a white woman who has never been homeless, who drinks Starbucks and who unabashedly likes cute and girly things, even I’m disgusted at this guy’s sheer, racist, sexist gall.

  • Alexandra

    What people fail to realize is that SATC2 is a film, and by that, I mean it’s a form of art which is portraying a resemblance of reality. I do agree that the film was very much Orientalist, but why are people attacking the four women so much? I don’t agree with their views either about the Middle East, but guess what, that’s the reaction that most Americans have when they go to the Middle East. They will look at a woman eating French Fries because they don’t see that everyday! Some parts were unrealistic and inaccurate, but the characters’ reactions I thought were realistic. I think that North Americans are ashamed to admit that and would rather condemn the writes for showing that reality about Americans.

  • Zahra (with a Z)

    Wild horses could not drag me to this film, but I did enjoy reading your opinionson it, and I like the editorial decision to give us 4 Muslim women’s perspectives instead of just one review. Great job!

  • Iany

    “… this movie affirms every stereotype you have ever heard about the U.S. and The Middle East.”

    Oh My God, this is so entirely true, this conversation hits the nail on the head. They don’t just simplify cultures outside their own and walk the neo-colonialist, US-centric whatever, they even screw up their own background into a horrific parody. Whatever complexity they used to have is gone and they walk over other the Middle East and other women in pointy stilettos.

  • Yara

    I’m an arab woman (Lebanese) who has had to travel to the UAE (in addition to Kuwait, Oman etc..) for work and I can honestly say that watching this movie was like deja vu. At first, Dubai seems glamorous, exciting and open but then you see what it’s really all about. I was visiting a male colleague at another hotel so we could prepare for a meeting we would be having later in the day with a customer. I went to his hotel room and 5 minutes later, there was a knock on the door and we were asked to exit. It was incredibly embarrassing.

    The message this movie gives about the UAE is perfect – beneath the hype this is just another backward muslem country. Good for Samantha giving them all the finger. Oh, and the video of moslem women wearing the latest designer fashions under their burkas? Very true, I’ve seen it and so have some of my other female colleagues..

    [This comment has been moderated to fit within moderation guidelines.]

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  • Mariam

    Hi everyone at MMW,
    I absolutely loved this dialogue. I’m so glad to see that there were other Muslim women who were offended by the film in some ways, but enjoyed it in others.

    I quoted and linked this dialogue in a piece I wrote for Sapna Magazine. You can find it at I would really appreciate your feedback and comments.

    Thank you and I look forward to reading more of your commentary!

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  • muslim girl

    i think SATC succeeded in portraying the image of the Arabs.

    I think SATC is a message for Arab women to start a revolution against men in their society. And as a Muslim girl i totally agree, cause we cant bear this prison we are in anymore.

    [This comment has been edited to fit within comment moderation guidelines.]

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