‘And Just Like That’: A Case Study on How Media Portrayals Keep Missing The Mark With Diversity and Inclusion

It’s imperative to approach inclusion and diversity in media by creating opportunities for all backgrounds to be integrated in a way that doesn’t de-center their narratives or position them as objects.

And Just Like That, Sex And The City’s latest reboot, is an unmistakable example of how many series fail at inclusion and how cancel-culture catalyzes directors to make decisions that register as virtue-signaling.

There are a potpourri of things that don’t quite work about And Just Like That–particularly how the narratives attempt to be inclusive but miss the mark. Many representations cram education into each episode for the means of broadening the minds of each central character– a theme that is hugely problematic.

To start, Big’s death sets the show in motion–leading viewers to anticipate themes of aging.

Then episodes quickly overload audiences with new narratives that upstage the initial theme of aging and grief. Each of the subplots would have been pivotal if they had the time to develop. It is made overtly clear that development was not a priority.

Miranda’s infidelity and the overall writing of her character are incongruent with previous Mirandas we’ve seen. She exists at the whim of Che, a colleague of Carrie’s, whose almost every scene is a commentary on their identity. Che is often hypersexualized as Miranda’s only character motivation, while Steve remains underdeveloped, eventually disappearing.

Charlotte’s child, Rock, taps into gender ambiguity and transgendered identity but falls short in really exploring Charlotte’s actual relationship with Rock. Rock is consistently in flux and Charlotte never quite steps into their realm of understanding.

These characters feel hugely tokenized. Each episode lacks the commentary we’re used to being delivered by Carrie, which is instead, replaced with a dialogue that tries to explicate every ism that exists in the world today and portray our titular 3 as being “woke”. At points, it is as though each character outside of Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Anthony are there to make a point about what it truly means to be progressive: from the children to the gender and racial minorities on the show.

The shortcomings of Sex And The City are well-known in spite of its success. Even so,  And Just Like That swerves the car around in the wrong direction as it perfectly represents how directors miss the mark when they try to take a more inclusive approach to their casting without really connecting or taking a vested interest in exploring the experiences of marginalized identities.

Instead of approaching inclusion by way of ticking off boxes and casting actors of various backgrounds to be a caricature of their most obvious struggles as a vehicle for the validation and self-actualization of Miranda, Carrie and Charlotte, why not just make these roles accessible to people with these minority backgrounds so that they can be integrated and have stories of their own?

Characters of marginalized backgrounds do not have to solely be playing their struggles, as with anyone, people generally have more to their character than grappling with identity and what they teach those who do not quite understand.

Having lives that extend beyond the problematic aspects of their marginalization and encompass intersectional problems–much like the protagonists they are being used for– would bring about the diversity and updating that And Just Like That was attempting to portray. These actors and their characters can also be the lawyer, the girl next door, the confidant, the fashion designer–entities of their own accord whose dialogues don’t exist strictly for the purposes of educating those around them.

Sex And The City’s reboot ultimately fails to encapsulate true diversity because it focalizes the colorful narratives around redeeming the three central protagonists— something that was neither necessary, nor naturally executed.

As we advocate for more representation in media, we ought to take into account that these representations should not be used as tools. Diverse accessibility that honors minority narratives, integrates them into the story as their counterparts would be, and doesn’t de-center these individuals for the sake of benefitting someone else’s realization, can be addressed in more ways that lend genuine visibility.

Che could be a radio icon whose jokes and radio commentaries could go beyond the realm of explaining non-binary identity to Miranda. In this way, Miranda doesn’t become the focal point of Che’s story. Lisa Todd can have a motivation to work on her relationship with her mother-in-law, instead of existing to diversify Charlotte’s social circle. Dr. Nya Wallace could respond to Miranda’s overcompensating without extending herself unnaturally to form an unprofessional friendship outside of class, with no real impetus except to absolve Miranda’s shortcomings.

These faulty attempts to bring in a wider range of audiences that keeps up with the times also highlight another issue with how a fear of cancel-culture catalyzes false diversity–often resulting in virtue-signaling, stereotyping and fictional characters that have the potential to be flushed out, but feel hollow, incomplete, and have to compete with a handful of other identity narratives.

There is are some exceptions to this in the series, however, the first exception is Seema.

Seema’s introduction and development are integrated well into the story because she possesses an inner life beyond what Carrie is needing to realize and understand about herself. Her presence feels natural and her history, cultural background, and romantic life all have room for potential development. She can have a story beyond the realm of redeeming or explaining Carrie’s shortcomings to viewers. If And Just Like That comes back for another season, there is so much room to delve into Seema’s character motivations and background without it feeling strictly for the benefit of making the protagonists seem woke.

This is one (if not the only) example on the show of how to diversify the cast with real intention.

Dr. Nya Wallace could also be an exception, be it not for her awkward friendship with Miranda. Nya has a life of her own and issues of her own. These topics have potential if the series takes its time flushing out her character.

We ought to rebrand cancel-culture. In retrospect, we can acknowledge the merits of works of the past through the lens of their time (rather than through the lens of today’s cultural standards) without invalidating the artistry and cultural significance of that time period, which is now decades away… Things have changed. We’ve made some new discoveries. We’ve evolved a little bit (even though we have a long way to go).

Sex and The City, nonetheless, gets some things right. Although there are bafflingly inaccurate representations of LGBTQ+ identities and racial minorities, and the show is notoriously upwardly mobile as well as lacking in racial, class, and body diversity, it does however, depict some forward thinking for its time–feminine sexuality, freedom, self-sufficiency, nuanced relationships that take growth, and friends that grow together. The show deserves its criticism and as do many others.

Samantha is easily the most beloved character in the series (though problematic and socio-politically remiss–at times). Unlike Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte, she refuses to be in relationships, dates a queer artist, wears short dresses in her middle age and reluctantly falls madly in love with a man who is half her age. Her writing– in many aspects– broke the status quo.

Her battle with cancer, difficulty with beauty standards during her late 40s as well as chemotherapy, and her journey to being emotionally available were standout. What makes these character arcs special is that they happened over time, with an investment in developing her character that felt genuine and focalized her story without it being an extension of anyone else on the show.

And Just Like That’s decision to include marginal narratives that had potential but never really existed beyond the scope of what Miranda, Carrie and Charlotte needed to learn to right the wrongs of earlier seasons doesn’t make the show more palatable or diverse– rather, it does the opposite. It causes viewers to raise an eyebrow as many of the characters introduced did not receive the same attention and genuine interest that we know the producers to be capable of.

The directorial move to neglect their character development without any real story arcs speaks to a lack of genuine interest in these characters on the production side of this series.

What worked for Samantha as a character and what works for Seema, could work for some of the newer characters…if the decision is made to flush out their stories over time– or at least to give them their own stories with the same attention and care that we’ve seen with others on the show.

Many works of literature and media of the past are, inevitably, problematic. Today’s works of fiction will no-doubt solicit criticism and analysis from future generations.

What matters is that we understand the context of these works and address these criticisms in a way that promotes accountability and genuine interest in providing visibility to marginal communities. In order for it to truly be impactful and inclusive, this genuine interest must extend beyond the realm of redeeming those who benefit from marginalization.

Madrid-based traveler, visual and performing artist, and content writer.

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