As the hotly anticipated reboot’s trailer drops, we look back at Cynthia Nixon’s interview in Mission’s Fourth Issue.
By Juno Kelly.
When Cynthia Nixon first really hit our television screens in 1998, as Miranda Hobbes in HBO’s Sex and the City, she was the straight-talking, red-haired feminist the world didn’t know it needed. Twenty-two years, myriad meaty roles, and a gubernatorial campaign later, she’s a woman New York would be markedly different without.
In the 1990s, in the social circles of young women, “Which Sex and the City character are you?” became a personality-defining question. In these discussions, the cynical, career-minded Miranda was often an afterthought: Women usually hoped to be compared to a Vivienne Westwood-clad Carrie, unapologetic man-eater Samantha, or the coquettish Charlotte. “People didn’t want to be Miranda back in the day and now they do,” says a more sugary-sounding Nixon than expected, over the phone from New York. “Me and all of my friends, we were Mirandas. So the idea that she was less appealing was news to me.”
Indeed, in recent years, Miranda has become an altogether much more appealing option. With woke-ness and feminism now at the forefront of social consciousness, particularly among Gens Y and Z, “We should all be Mirandas” has become a catchphrase, thanks also partly to the Instagram account @everyoutfitonsatc.
Nixon laughs when I ask her if she finds it amusing that, several decades on, Miranda remains the poster girl for ambitious women with social awareness. “I think it’s great, I’m incredibly flattered. Even though Miranda can be a little humorless and didactic, I think a lot of what she was saying is… The culture has moved in the direction of her as opposed to in the direction of, say, Charlotte.”
In 2018, Nixon ran for governor of New York. But instead of downplaying her showbusiness past, as many actor-turned-politicians do, Nixon embraced her unorthodox start, adopting the tagline, “I’m a Miranda and I’m voting for Cynthia.”
Although Nixon was defeated in the race by incumbent Andrew Cuomo, her progressive campaign, which focused on education reform, the legalization of marijuana, and improving New York’s transport system, sparked the #CynthiaEffect—a shift toward the left in New York politics, and endowed her with a political platform that she zealously occupies. Weeks before this interview, Nixon endorsed fellow democratic socialist Bernie Sanders for president, citing him as the only contender she believes can beat Donald Trump. “[Trump] was talking to people who are really struggling economically in this country, and he was lying to them, but he was speaking to them. And that’s who Bernie is speaking to,” she says. Would Miranda have voted for Sanders, I ask. “I think Miranda, like so many of us, will support whoever the [Democratic] candidate is. I think she would have a soft spot for [Elizabeth] Warren the way I do.”
Nixon, a queer woman and advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, is confident that a Sanders presidency will benefit the community. “He was supporting Pride parades in Burlington, Vermont, when I was in high school, and I’m gonna be 54 this year!” she enthuses. “Bernie has always voted for bills that would protect our civil rights. He’s always been on our side, and he was on our side before it was cool.”
As a campaigner for New York’s public school system, and as a mother to a transgender son, does Nixon believe that America’s schools have sufficient measures in place to protect and nurture LGBTQ+ youth? “No, I absolutely do not. I absolutely do not. And I think having a secretary of education like Betsy DeVos is a big step in the wrong direction,” she warns. Nixon believes that New York has made great strides with regards to bullying, but stresses the importance of LGBTQ+ visibility in schools, believing we need to let kids know that, “whatever they are on the spectrum, we are a community, a strong, vibrant, beautiful, healthy community, and they need to know that we exist.”
Although Sex and the City shook things up, particularly with regards to the staging of female sexuality and third-wave feminism, like many TV shows from the 1990s, it has recently come under fire for its lack of representation, the LGBTQ+ community included. Nixon, however, stands by it, reiterating the importance of judging television in accordance with the period it was created in. “One of the really important things about Sex and the City, and any groundbreaking television show, is that it doesn’t create the reality, it actually reflects back the reality that was already happening. I think we need to focus on the important things that Sex and the City did. I think the sexuality is important, I think the feminism is important, but I think the most important thing that it did was say, ‘Hey, we’re stuck back in this very antiquated idea that all women are dying to get married as fast as possible, and that is no longer true in the United States.’ There are lots of women out there who are saying, ‘I might get married one day but not right now.’”
When Nixon and her husband separated and she began dating community organizer Christine Marinoni in 2004, the media scrutiny was pervasive. She has since been labeled both a “lesbian” and “gay” in the media. “I don’t mind being called bisexual, I don’t mind calling myself gay. I think there just needs to be—as there are—more and more of us open and visible.” Nixon, however, adheres to a very Millennial/Gen Z approach to sexuality, preferring to forgo labels entirely. “I call myself a bisexual when I’m forced to put a label on it, but I do, because people are really anxious for that. I’m a woman who is in love with another woman and is married to another woman, and I feel like the person that I’ve always been, including back when I only dated men.”
Since her gubernatorial defeat, Nixon has returned to the acting sphere with resounding success. The actor stars in the upcoming Netflix series Ratched, a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest prequel co-created by Ryan Murphy, and will soon be seen in The Gilded Age, a costume drama produced by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes. Set in New York, the show echoes the city’s current political reality. “It definitely has an Upstairs Downstairs thing happening, like Downton Abbey did, but it’s very American. It deals with race much more. And it’s really about New York and New York in the 1880s. And it’s a period that’s very similar to our period, in that, all of a sudden, you have these individuals and these families with enormous wealth that have no real precursor. So, the war between the old establishment and the new money, and the fight for what New York is going to be, and who is going to be on top.”
In addition to her on-screen homecoming, Nixon is set to showcase her directorial chops, staging a 40th-anniversary revival of Jane Chambers’s play Last Summer at Bluefish Cove on Broadway. A landmark piece of lesbian literature, the story follows the journeys of eight women who spend a summer at a fictional seaside town in Long Island. When Nixon and I speak, the cast is two days away from starting workshops. She hopes that the play will ignite a shift in Broadway’s representation of the lesbian experience. “We’ve gotten so many plays recently—amazing plays—about gay men. But we’ve never really seen a play about a community of lesbians.”
Due to her progressive stance on sexuality, Nixon relates to many of the young hopefuls who auditioned for Bluefish Cove. “In passing this play, we are trying very hard to cast it with all gay and bisexual women and all queer women… There are so many women to choose from who are in their twenties, because there is just much more openness in saying, ‘I’m bisexual,’ or ‘I don’t want to label myself, but I’ve dated men and I’ve dated women.’ I have to say, I often feel much more accepted with them than with queer women of my own generation.”
With more and more young people taking an interest in social politics, it seems as though society’s pro-Miranda rhetoric is here to stay. Nixon’s advice? “You can be a Samantha at night, but you might want to be a Miranda the rest of the time!”
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