'Wadjda' and Girlhood in Saudi Arabia
What does it feel like to be a young girl in Saudi Arabia? Haifaa al-Mansour’s film ‘Wadjda’ offers a new perspective on girlhood in Saudi Arabia.
Haifaa al-Mansour was the first female Saudi director to achieve two major things: shooting a feature film and shooting a feature film entirely in her country. After trying for almost five years to find financial backing and get filming permission, her film was released in 2012.
Strongly influenced by neorealist cinema, the film tells the story of a fearless young girl, Wadjda, who dreams of owning a green bicycle, so she can race with her neighbour, Abdullah. When the film was shot, riding bikes was frowned upon for girls and Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world in which women were forbidden from driving.
Shooting a film in the male-dominated Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an achievement on its own, but what is particularly groundbreaking about ‘Wadjda’ is its approach towards women’s emancipation. In Al-Mansour’s film, women are not portrayed as passive victims. Instead, they possess agency, help each other, understand each other, and fight the oppression from within.
After watching the film, one can only wonder: as Westerners, do we (and if so, to what extent) take into consideration those voices, before talking on behalf of them?