Wadjda – the new symbol of Saudi hope? Are we seeing the dawn of a new Saudi Arabia with women that can ride bicycles and drive cars? Is there a little “d” for a David that wins over a bloated Goliath?
Wadjda – She is the movie character in the first movie directed by a Saudi Woman and while all she wants is the right to ride a bicycle, today’s Saudi women are already ripe to ask to be allowed to drive their cars by themselves. This while the Saudi Monarchy is ready to forgo sitting on the UN Security Council because the World at large is not ready to allow them to dictate conditions anymore as they used to do when the Oil Barrel was only true king of the World Economy.
Saudi Arabia will come to be sorry that they did not empower their women in time and did not legalize their foreign help either. The Middle East is changing and they refused to see the upcoming change.
This past Saturday, despite strong opposition, some women in Saudi Arabia turned on the ignition in their cars and took a non-chauffeured ride. In Saudi Arabia this is top of Chutzpah.
These women believed that time is on their side. They point to the huge numbers of Saudis who study and travel abroad and return with new perspectives on their culture. They also suggest that the kingdom’s youthful population and the tremendous rise of social media will over time make the country more open to change. By coincidence, me and my wife went to see a Saudi movie co-production that was directed for the first time by a Saudi female. POWER TO HER with the grace of Allah and the lack of understanding of his wardens.
Some opponents of Women’s minimal right to drive a car pointed out that Oct. 26 was the birthday of Hillary Rodham Clinton, implying a foreign hand in the planning. Last week, hackers broke into the campaign’s Web site, posting insults aimed at a prominent activist and a video in which a man identified as a Zionist calls for women to drive — implying that Saudi’s enemies see this as a way to weaken the kingdom.
The MOVIE we saw was WADJDA – named after an 11-year-old girl living in a suburb of Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. Although she lives in a conservative world, Wadjda is fun loving, entrepreneurial and always pushing the boundaries of what she can get away with. Wajda is a lovely normal girl in a restraining environment that will be very difficult for her growing up as a normal woman if one thinks in Western democracy terms.
After a fight with her friend Abdullah, a neighborhood boy she shouldn’t be playing with, Wadjda sees a beautiful green bicycle for sale. She wants the bicycle desperately so that she can beat Abdullah in a race. But Wadjda’s mother won’t allow it, fearing repercussions from a society that sees bicycles as dangerous to a girl’s virtue. So Wadjda decides to try and raise the money herself. At first, Wadjda’s mother is too preoccupied with convincing her husband not to take a second wife to realize what’s going on. And soon enough Wadjda’s plans are thwarted when she is caught running various schemes at school. Just as she is losing hope of raising enough money, she hears of a cash prize for a Koran recitation competition at her school. She devotes herself to the memorization and recitation of Koranic verses, and her teachers begin to see Wadjda as a model pious girl. The competition isn’t going to be easy, especially for a troublemaker like Wadjda, but she refuses to give in. She is determined to continue fighting for her dreams – wins the competition, but the money is taken away from her when she declares in her purity and innocence that she intends to buy with it a bicycle. Instead the money is given to the Arab Holly Grail – the needy Palestinians – another Saudi center-figure.
That is just the movie center-line, but its great value is in the environment it depicts. The all-girl Madrassa and the depiction of a world that seems organized to suppress any expression of individuality of these girls or anybody else -even the foreign Muslim driver who lives there without documents and far away from his own family – the daughter that he has not sen in five years and became just a photo attached to the dashboard of the car he is driving.
Wadjda’s mother has a job but is dependent on the driver. The is a hint to her having had a difficult labor when giving birth and as she had a daughter now her husband will take another woman in order to get a son. this is a world-caves-in situation for her and it leads her now to focus all her love on Wadjda. This is a bitter-sweet movie loaded with dinamite – rather more then the suicide bomber that is mentioned in passing. It becomes much more when another sentence in passing just says – “Silly girl, You Want to Race a Boy?”
The Saudi-German co-produced movie, the Director, Haifaa al-Mansour, is the eighth (out of twelve) child of the poet Abdul Rahman Mansour, who introduced her to films by video, there being no movie theaters in Saudi Arabia. With his encouragement, she studied comparative literature at the American University in Cairo. She later went on to attend film school in Sydney, Australia.
She began her filmmaking career with three shorts, Who?, The Bitter Journey, and The Only Way Out. The Only Way Out won prizes in the United Arab Emirates and in Holland. She followed these with the documentary Women Without Shadows, which deals with the hidden lives of women of the Persian Gulf. It was shown at 17 international festivals. The film received the Golden Dagger for Best Documentary in the Muscat Film Festival and a special jury mention in the fourth Arab Film Festival in Rotterdam. Haifaa al-Mansour was a guest at the 28th Three Continents Festival in Nantes, France.
Her feature debut Wadjda, which she wrote as well as directed, made its world premiere at the 2012 Venice Film Festival; it is the first full-length feature to be shot entirely in Saudi Arabia and through 2013, the only feature-length film made in Saudi Arabia by a female director.
Wadjda was selected as the Saudi Arabian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards, which is the first time Saudi Arabia has submitted a film for the Best Foreign Language Oscar.
She did not intend that her film work focus on women’s issues, but found them too important to not address. Both Who? and Women Without Shadows deal with the custom of abaya. She has received hate mail and criticism for being unreligious, which she denies. She does, however, feel that Saudi Arabia needs to take a more critical view of its culture.She also received praise from Saudis for encouraging discussion on topics usually considered taboo.
Haifaa al-Mansour has been living in Bahrain for some years with her husband, an American diplomat, and their two children.
Her personal story is fascinating in the way she is able to get some backing by Saudi Royals for her low key presentation of what might indeed be the deepest problem of the Saudi Society. She clearly has become the best Saudi Arabia has to offer about itself to the world at large. Will it be rewarded by an Oscar? The equivalent of a Nobel in the movie business?
The movie industry says: Wadjda presents a startlingly assured new voice from a corner of the globe where cinema has been all but silenced.
Saudi Women of substance – RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Hackers defaced their Web site. Delegations of clerics appealed to the king to block their movement. And men claiming to be security agents called their cellphones to leave a clear message: “O, women of the kingdom, do not get behind the wheel!”
But they did anyway. On Saturday, a few dozen women insisted on violating one of the most stubborn social codes in staunchly conservative Saudi society, getting into their cars and driving, activists said. Many posted videos of themselves doing so to spread the word.
“We are looking for a normal way of life,” Madiha al-Ajroush, 60, a psychologist, said in an interview in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, “for me to get into my car and do something as small as get myself a cappuccino or something as grand as taking my child to the emergency room.”
Above is from Ben Hubbard as printed by The Sunday New York Times, October 27, 2013 in:
We are flabbbergasted seeing the note about the defacing of an internet outlet as we have experienced the same after having posted an article about Saudi Arabia – just see our homepage please and you can see the article as well at:
The goal of the women that want to be allowed to drive by themselves is profoundly modest compared with the Arab Spring calls for democracy that have toppled some Middle Eastern governments and shaken others. They have gone out of their way to avoid anything that looks like a protest, remain deeply loyal to the 89-year-old King Abdullah, and studiously avoid confrontations with the authorities.
“We don’t want to break any laws,” said Ms. Ajroush (Madiha al-Ajroush, 60 – a psychologist) who has been campaigning for the right to drive since 1990. “This is not a revolution, and it will not be turned into a revolution.”
But one prominent sheik, Nasser al-Omar, led a delegation of more than 100 sheiks to the royal court in Jeddah to appeal to the king against “the conspiracy of women driving,” as he said in a video posted online.
Another cleric, Sheik Mohammed al-Nujaimi, described the campaign as a “great danger,” saying it would lead to ruined marriages, a low birthrate, the spread of adultery, more car accidents and “the spending of excessive amounts on beauty products.”
“The learned have banned women from driving cars because of the political, religious, social and economic problems it entails,” Sheik Nujaimi warned in a statement.
|In fact it is highly possible that she could be capable not just of running a motor-vehicle for her private use but to run the whole country for the public good.
WAJDA LE FILM SAUDIA LAUREAT VINICIA FESTVAL 2012 DAR AL HUSSAMI PRODUCT.
This Is Definitely a Man’s World: ‘Wadjda’
Haifaa Al Mansour
Reem Abdullah, Waad Mohammed, Abdullrahman Al Gohani, Ahd, Sultan Al Assaf, Mohammed Zahir
(Sony Pictures Classics; US theatrical: 13 Sep 2013 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 19 Jul 2013 (General release); 2012)
This is 2013, right? This is a modern world filled with tireless technological advances, great leaps in scientific understanding, and a growing globalism which allows formerly outside cultures to claim a portion of the global plan, correct? We do try and strive for equal rights, national sovereignty, and a right to self determination? So the social science fiction of something like Wadjda should be seen as nothing short of shocking. It should be viewed as not only a triumph for its filmmaker (the first woman to ever make a movie in the horribly paternalistic theocracy of Saudi Arabia) and film subject, but as a telling window into a world that, supposedly, shouldn’t exist in the 21st century. Sure, religious “freedom” has formed the foundation for such onerous oppression, but by watching our little heroine and the various women around her, we see how Saudi females forge victories out of the diminishing windows of opportunity they are (rarely) given.
All little Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) wants is a bicycle. Her friend Abdullah (Abdullrahman Algohani) teases her, telling her that girls don’t ride bikes and, besides, she doesn’t have the 800 Riyals it costs to buy one. Little does he know that Wadjda works every angle she can at her all girl’s school, avoiding the constant scowl of her Headmistress (Ahd) while selling mixtapes, candy, and other contraband for her equally repressed classmates. Things are equally dicey at home, with her handsome father (Sultan Al Assaf) constantly chiding her mother (Reem Abdullah) that he will look for another wife is she doesn’t straighten up and act the part. Eventually, Wadjda finds the answer to her two wheeled dreams – a Qur’an recitation contest which pays 1000 Riyals to the winner. Studying as hard as her constantly preoccupied pre-adolescent brain can, she hopes to win. Of course, even if she does, that doesn’t guarantee she’ll get what she wants. This is Saudi Arabia, after all.
There are times when you will think Wadjda a twee and artfully cloying coming of age, a movie made up of beats we’ve seen several dozen times before. Then you’ll realize that everything is set in the otherworld dimensions of the man-powered Arabic world, and you jaw starts to drop. It’s almost impossible to believe what the female characters have to put up with here (and one imagines it’s actually much worse in reality). It’s almost unbelievable. Wadjda is reprimanded like every other naughty little girl is, but the adults are completely cut off from what we would consider to be a set of inalienable human rights. Take the mother. She lives under the constant cloud of a husband who trades on his ability to verbally divorce her by using the threat of new wife to keep her in line. Even when she does everything she can for him, she is left in a subservient, slighted role, which just doesn’t seem to fit her veiled (literally) vitality.
Then there are the teachers, acting like agents in a McCarthy-era witch hunt, worried about how the girls wear their hair, hand holding and touching in public, and perhaps the biggest sin of all – being visible to the men as they move from class to class. Though there are times when Wadjda the film wants to make us aware of why these laws are important (this is especially true in the case of our heroine’s home life) they often play like missives from an alien artifact. It’s just stunning to think people believe in such strategies, that they are willing to succumb to such treatment (which can get very brutal at times) to serve a spoiled, entitled, elitist group. You know it’s bad when a lowly driver, slovenly and given to disrespectful outbursts and smacks, can still demand – and readily get – the respect of his opposite sex ‘inferiors.’ If ever there was a testament against Sharia law, this movie is it.
But writer/director Haifaa al-Mansour has more up her sleeve than undermining the ruling regime. Instead, she wants us to see Wadjda for what she represents – the possible future of Saudi Arabia. Under the black robes and face veil is a girl who loves the ways of the West, their sneakers and their snacks, who enjoys mocking her elders knowing full well that, at her age, she will receive little more than a stern retort. Of course, as she grows, she see what could happen to her (a pair of her friends are condemned for doing little more than talking closely) and, by arguing for a bike, she is basically defying her heritage and her faith with a request for…freedom. But the great thing is, Wadjda doesn’t care. Instead, she asks the basic question “Why?” and then scoffs when the answer seems based in religion, not reality.
Unfortunately, the window on an unusual world angle is all al-Mansour’s movie has going for it. The story is routine, the coming of age only complicated by the script dicta of the Qur’an. Wadjda and her mother are the most complete, three dimensional characters while everyone else is painted in the broadest of one note brushstrokes. Granted, people in modern Saudi Arabia may be nothing more than model archetypes, and al-Mansour may be working within the confines of the society she is situated in, but as with all great art, challenge is part of the process. Wadjda the character has much more chutzpah than Wadjada the film, though the reasons for same are obvious. One is a fictional character. The other is a statement that could land its maker in very, very hot water.
Still, this movie should be seen, both as an expression within oppression and a wake-up call to those in the West who wonder why the Middle East is so unsettled. In a world where we strive, daily, to determine the proper personal liberties of everyone involved, where we simultaneously clamor for calm and conformity, where faith is the foundation and formation for both genuine good and unconscionably evil, the situations highlighted here are both unfathomable and all too familiar. Recognizing the undeniable achievement and accomplishment here, Wadjda will still be a maddening movie for a ‘modern’ sensibility. It’s like looking back at our own sketchy history and coming down on the side of wrong, and then basing our entire rule of law on same. There is hope here. There’s also hopelessness.