You can’t help but fall in love with Wadjda, the adorable savvy little 10 year old, sneaker wearing rebel, who won’t take no for an answer as she uses her spunky creativity and imagination to overcome obstacles, stopping at nothing to get what she wants. 

This charming coming of age tale takes place in a barren sand swept suburb of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where women are treated as property for no other reason than to allow men to stay in power and confine women to the home. 

While we follow the fun-loving Wadjda (Waad Mohammed), on her quest as she devises clever ways to save up enough money to purchase a bicycle so she can ride together on equal terms with her best friend Abdullah, the film highlights the daily discrimination faced by women in an oppressive male dominated society.  

As religious fundamentalism is used to keep women from performing even the most basic of activities like driving a car, riding a bicycle, opening a bank account or just being in the presence of a man without completely covering their faces and bodies, women are prevented from achieving any semblance of a normal life.

Wadjda is a blissfully innocent girl going to school, who just wants to play alongside the rest of the boys.  But everywhere she goes she discovers that in this highly segregated society she lives in, girls are prohibited from doing many things that boys take for granted.

Much like Circumstance (2011), which was also directed by a woman and recounted the experiences of a girl living in Tehran under an oppressive authoritarian Islamic society, Wadjda (2012) is also directed by a woman and recounts the plight of women living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia under strict Islamic rule.

You get the feeling that in this inhospitable society, things are eventually going to turn out badly for Wadjda. That she will lose her innocence when she is forced to face the harsh limitations placed on her, but she remains optimistic and persistent, managing to accommodate her conflicting aspirations.

We are given a glimpse into a veiled, little known area of the world, where deep rooted tribal ways and traditions are still followed. Wadjda’s mother hasn’t been able to produce a son for her husband and according to tradition he can therefore exercise his right to pursue a new bride, in effect abandoning his wife and daughter.

Saudi Arabia’s first female film director Haifaa Al-Mansour, in her first feature film, made at great personal risk, has created a sensitive, intimate portrayal of life in Riyadh as seen from the perspective of not only Wadjda, but all women and girls in general. However, this is the kind of film that may provoke serious discussions among western audiences as the cultural, religious and physical restrictions placed on women can be quite disturbing. 

Still, the film, like Wadjda herself, holds out hope for the plight of women in the Middle East. By exposing the injustices they suffer, the next generation of boys and girls may take on the many challenges of the future to improve life for everyone.

The following films are also noteworthy entries of social and culturally relevant films where young women must face the injustices of their strict tribal and religious societies; The White Balloon (1995), The Circle (2000), Baran (2001), Maya (2001), Ten (2003), At Five in the Afternoon (2003), Osama (2004), Offside (2007), Circumstance (2011).



Suzanne Fluhr (Just One Boomer) said...

Do you know if Haifaa Al-Mansour experienced any repercussions because of her film? Did the Saudi government permit it to be shown there?

JP said...

Hi Suzanne,
Thanks for visiting my blog.

As cinemas are banned in Saudi Arabia, films (including this one) cannot be show in her own country. But some people do watch films in their homes.

I have not heard of any repercussions that Haifaa has experienced as a result of this film.

'Wadjda' has recently been selected to represent Saudi Arabia at this year's Academy Awards. Here is hoping it will be nominated at the Oscars.

For more info about Haifaa Al-Mansour see the link below.

Bearz said...

I saw this film last July at Queens Film Theatre in Belfast, with a female friend and we both enjoyed it, it was most telling about the separation by gender that was exposed through how the girl's school taught and how the boy was treated by men, as bit by bit, by bit men closed ranks against women and women taught each other to stick to their own means of support. Perhaps every education system in the world does this to lesser and greater extents....