You may not know the name Haifaa al-Mansour, but you should. This woman is Saudi Arabia’s first female film director, and she is a game changer.
al-Mansour’s film, “Wadjda,” centers around a young Saudi Arabian girl of the same name as the title who wants to get a bicycle so she can race against her male friend. However, Wadjda’s very traditional stepmother tells her that if she does this, she won’t be able to have children. The director told The Telegraph, “Bicycles represent a lot. Freedom of movement, for one. Being in charge of your destiny. When bicycles were introduced in the West, women’s clothing changed. The bicycle carries a lot of meaning, but it carries it gently.”
In fact, it was only recently in Saudi Arabia that women were permitted to ride bicycles in parks and similar recreational areas, but only if they are supervised by men and wearing their abayas (body covering cloaks). At this time, women are not allowed to travel alone and are forbidden to drive or show their face in public.
It’s important to note how “Wadjda” illustrates that men aren’t the only ones oppressing young Saudi Arabian women, and that conflict exists between the older and younger generations of Saudis, particularly among females. For example, there is a scene where a group of young women are chatting, and Wadjda’s stepmother tells them to silence themselves because “to be heard is to be naked.”
Though al-Mansour said Saudi Arabia is a “moving society,” she was confined to the back of a van when making her film because men and women are not allowed to be seen working together in public. She spoke about the challenges of directing a film through a walkie talkie with The Guardian, saying, “It was difficult, frustrating to be confined in a small space when everybody is outside.”
Despite the difficulties she faced as a woman directing a film, al-Mansour is extremely positive about the whole experience because of what it really means for all generations of women in Saudi Arabia. She told The Guardian, “I think the most important thing is I was able to make a film, an authentic film and the first film entirely shot in Saudi. It’s an amazing thing and everything else is – eh.”
The film’s message can be summarized with one quote at the end from Wadjda’s stepmother. She tells Wadjda, “If you set your mind to something, no one can stop you.” And clearly, no one is stopping al-Mansour. She has been heard.
Watch the “Wadjda” trailer below, and share your thoughts in the comments!