'Sex And The City' Cast Abu Dhabi As The City? Really?

The four boisterous main characters from Sex and the City head to the United Arab Emirates in their second movie. What was writer and director Michael Patrick King thinking? His inspiration, he says, is Hollywood fantasy, not political reality.

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In the 12 years that "Sex and the City"'s existed, the city has always been New York - Bergdorf Goodman, Cosmo's, Manolos, at least for that trio. But when the movie opens on Thursday, that city will also be Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates. NPR's Elizabeth Blair asks: why?

ELIZABETH BLAIR: "Sex and the City" has always been laced with fantasy. Writer-producer Michael Patrick King says in a recession that was more important than ever. He says he took his cues from filmmakers who worked during the Depression.

Mr. MICHAEL PATRICK KING (Writer-Producer): And all of sudden they started doing "Top Hat" and extravagant getaway things and road pictures and far, far away adventures. And I thought: that's my job.

(Soundbite of music)

BLAIR: For Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha, the Arab world is exotic.

(Soundbite of movie "Sex and the City 2")

Ms. SARAH JESSICA PARKER (Actor): (as Carrie): Desert moons, Shahrazad, magic carpets.

BLAIR: Camels.

(Soundbite of camel)

Unidentified Woman (Actor): (as character) Oh, can you hear me now? Harry, Miranda.

(Soundbite of screaming)

BLAIR: Camels. Abu Dhabi. No?

Dr. JACK SHAHEEN (Author): I've been to Abu Dhabi several times, and believe me, I've been everywhere in Abu Dhabi and I couldn't find a camel.

BLAIR: Dr. Jack Shaheen has written extensively on how Muslims and Arabs have been portrayed in American movies.

Dr. SHAHEEN: No matter where the film is shot, inevitably we're going to have camels and we're going to have the desert and some tents. I mean, that's how Hollywood traditionally defines the Middle East.

BLAIR: Now, "Sex and the City 2" isn't pretending this is real. Even the press materials acknowledge they had to go to West Africa to get the camels. The film was shot in Morocco, not Abu Dhabi. And throughout, the photography, the clothes, the music are stunning, if not authentic.

Michael Patrick King.

Mr. KING: We didn't kid around. We really went there and made a big old-fashioned Hollywood movie, but hopefully with a current sensibility involved.

(Soundbite of movie, "Sex and the City 2")

Unidentified Man (Actor): (as character) What's the sense in a boring business dinner when you have sand dunes and sunset.

BLAIR: Michael Patrick King references lots of old movies, including the screwball comedies from the 1930s and '40s.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. BING CROSBY (Actor, singer): (Singing) I hear this country's where they do the dance of the seven veils.

BLAIR: Like "Road to Morocco," with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Interesting choice, says Jack Shaheen.

Dr. SHAHEEN: "Road to Morocco" is probably one of the most stereotypical films ever to come out of Hollywood.

BLAIR: At one point Bob Hope is in full sultan-esque attire. In "Sex and the City," Carrie Bradshaw wears a turban designed by Philip Treacy of London. Depending on your point of view, she either looks silly or fashion forward.

Michael Patrick King.

Mr. KING: Pat Field and I, the costume designer, had major conversations about how to be creative and cover the shoulders to be respectful for the customs. And what they came up with was this intricate and almost undefinable collection of scarves and shirts that turn into shruggings and jackets. And it's so funny, because when Carrie finally does drop her jacket and show her shoulders, it's almost as if she's naked.

BLAIR: But there are no harem girls or snake charmers in this "Sex and the City."

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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