‘Wadjda’, the first Saudi Arabian film created by a female Saudi film director

Wadjda, directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour, is a film that should immediately attract our attention. It is the first to be made entirely in Saudi Arabia. It is also the first of the nation’s films to be created by a female film director. These exciting breakthroughs of Arabian film traditions and taboos are mirrored in the subject matter. The exploration of the relationship between place, gender, and (self) expression plays a prominent part in negotiating barriers both within the script and within the real life making of the film.

Immediately, Wadjda is depicted as a rebellious schoolgirl, pushing at any boundaries that come her way. She has an entrepreneurial streak of selling homemade friendship bracelets and being apparently indispensable to those around her. Indeed, throughout the film she is seen carrying the messages of others’ in order to make money. However, she stands out not just because of her high spirits and enthusiasm for life, but because she is a high spirited and enthusiastic girl living in Saudi Arabia.

The other girls in her class all wear the appropriated black footwear and cover their heads with black scarves. Not Wadjda. She wears Converses to school, and is often seen trailing around the city with her scarf (if she actually has it with her) floating along behind in the breeze.

The film meanders through Wadjda’s life both at home and at school. This young girl negotiating a sense of place for herself within a domestic setting and social society each containing tensions between custom, tradition and religion. Two female characters, Wadjda’s mother and headmistress, embody and condone certain oppressive traditions. This is striking because it reminds us as viewers that women as well as men reinforce traditional values, and that women largely carry out the repression of other women. This indicates just how hard it is for young girls to break out of this constricting cycle, as likely role models are insisting on their ‘silence’ and submissiveness.  Continue reading