The Veiled Feminism Of Wadjda

Nora Caplan-Bricker applauds director Haifaa al-Mansour’s Wadjda, the first movie filmed entirely in Saudi Arabia:

[Mansour] was making the film for a Saudi audience—the only one that could truly understand the strictures its female characters face, and the one that needed to hear its message—and she didn’t want to run the risk that it wouldn’t be shown there. “I don’t want to work in a vacuum,” she explained.

The director chose a child for her heroine partly because pre-adolescents aren’t so rigidly circumscribed in Saudi society, and she needed Wadjda to be able to run around. The movie is all about mobility: It centers on Wadjda’s efforts to buy herself a bicycle so that she can beat her friend, Abdullah, in a race. Every time she reveals her plan, however, she’s greeted with a chorus of “girls don’t ride bikes!” A bike is anathema to feminine virtue, but it is also freedom from a life like Wadjda’s mother’s, who is stranded at home every time her grouchy driver decides not to show up. The right to drive has been a hotly politicized issue in Saudi Arabia for years, and it says a great deal about Mansour’s deftness as a filmmaker that the coveted bicycle can be both a potent symbol and the linchpin of a classical, poetically simple plot.

In the above video, Mansour explains what Wadjda means to her. In an interview with Alyssa Rosenberg, she discusses life in Saudi Arabia:

The relationship between drivers and women are very funny. It is very funny because it is a power struggle all the time. Because women, they think they are the boss since they are paying, and the drivers know that women cannot go anywhere without them. So they know that they are ultimately the boss. And women are not the best, like they are late, they don’t pay on time, but they are the customer, the biggest customer. So there is always a power struggle between the two.

Previous Dish on Wadjda, including its trailer, here.