Oh look, an arranged marriage plot on “And just like that …”
Sex and the city, a series that revolved around the brunch and dating habits of four white women, has never been known for its cultural sensitivity. Carrie sadly called bisexuality “a stopover on the way to gaytown”. Jewish men were portrayed as unwanted; Asian women played maid to white men. Samantha was constantly humiliated, even by her friends. One of the few times the show portrayed an interracial relationship – Samantha is dating black music mogul Chivon – she adopts a Blaccent. And just like that …, the SATC reboot that began last month, seems at least somewhat aware of this story. Ahead of the show’s launch, a number of new and particularly diverse cast members were announced, including Nicole Ari Parker, Karen Pittman, Sarita Choudhury and Sara Ramirez.
But from the start, managing diversity by restarting went awkward. BIPOC characters barely appear outside of the plots of the original (mostly white) cast, who just can’t seem to stop embarrassing themselves. In the first few episodes, Miranda repeatedly puts her foot in her mouth with her teacher, Dr. Nya Wallace (Pittman), making grin-like comments about her hair and race until, miraculously, the two women become friends. Meanwhile, Charlotte befriends her mother Lisa Todd Wexley (Parker), only to worry about what it will look like that she doesn’t have any other black friends to invite to her dinner party, going finally to the point of mistaking a black woman for another.
The series may have added some new characters, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that they only exist for the original cast to familiarize themselves with diversity – like mirrors for them to see themselves under. new and progressive lighting (?). Still, I had high hopes for Seema (Choudhury). When we meet the high powered real estate agent in episode four, it’s clear that she’s a woman of command and poise, crushing a cigarette as she steps out of a fancy car. She wears cheetah-print pantsuits and is generally fabulous, quickly befriending Carrie. But of course, when the show finally turns its attention to her character, what do we end up with? In this week’s episode, titled “Diwali,” a tired arranged marriage dispute with Seema’s Indian parents.
Things kick off when Seema brings Carrie to a downtown sari shop, telling her that in India Diwali is a celebration of “light triumphing over darkness”, but in Queens it is the opportunity for her family to ask why she is not married. and the pressure on an arranged marriage. It doesn’t matter that Seema is 53 years old. It looks like the writers of the show heard “Indian Woman” and that was the only plot they could think of.
A self-proclaimed “bad Indian girl,” Seema tells Carrie that her parents want her to have an arranged marriage because they “won the lottery” with a successful marriage and learned to love each other. However, we never get further into the matter than that. It’s not that the “arranged marriage” trope has no truth. But without specificity, it just feels superficial and like a hollow way of telling stories about brunette women.
Hearing about Seema’s dilemma, Carrie invites herself to her family’s Diwali, getting Seema’s permission to choose a sari. (And prompting the line: “It’s cultural appreciation, not cultural appropriation. ”) This – a white person posing in a sari – might be the most realistic thing about portraying the holiday episode. Otherwise, nothing like Diwali or celebration happens. There are no diyas or sparklers or even anyone eating which is odd, because the food is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the celebration. It could be any party except the man-made “drama” around the white boyfriend. As soon as they are introduced, Seema’s parents chat with Carrie about Seema’s imaginary boyfriend, “Dennis,” whom Seema later informs that Carrie is white so her parents aren’t completely devastated when they go their separate ways. But instead of being a clever replica, it sounds like another tired stereotype of an Indian woman rebelling against her family with a white boyfriend (and thus bolstering the desirability of white men). And even that cliché conflict seems half-baked: Despite the show’s awkward assumptions about Indian parents, Seema seems indifferent to Dennis’s whiteness and actually seems to just want their daughter to be happy. While it is true that they seem to associate a woman’s happiness with romantic partnership, it is not necessarily a culturally specific phenomenon as it is presented in the series.
There were glimmers from this episode that really turned me on: the last shots of Seema smoking through the car window; Nya dines with people who don’t constantly ask her if they are acting like a “white savior”. It was thrilling to see these characters alone, away from the white women their stories are usually set in. But ultimately, even the Diwali episode only speaks facetiously about Seema. The main focus, of course, is Carrie. Hearing about Seema’s parents’ arranged marriage, Carrie decides that she too will learn to love… her new luxury apartment. Of course, that doesn’t work, and the schlock-y appropriation ends up reminiscent of the unfortunate moment of the SATC the women went to Abu Dhabi, once again reinforcing a binary of eastern cultures as restrictive and emotionless, and western paradigms of freedom and love. Ultimately, the plot of the arranged marriage is little more than a way for the white characters to congratulate each other on their personal freedoms.
In the car back from the party, after Seema strapped the kavala around Carrie’s wrist – another touch of Indian culture written just for Carrie to experience – Seema looks out the window and exhales a plume of smoke. Looking at him, I wondered what she was seeing, what she was thinking. Which is her, apart from the stereotype of an Indian woman pushing aside her parents’ belief that her main value is to marry a suitable boy? I guess I’ll never know. The show added BIPOC characters to the checkboxes in other people’s stories, but it still doesn’t know how to dwell too long or too deeply on their own stories. Or more likely, he still doesn’t care.