HomeNews & Views Foreign Flick Friday: First Female Saudi Filmmaker Wins Prizes and Hearts

Foreign Flick Friday: First Female Saudi Filmmaker Wins Prizes and Hearts



“WADJDA is a movie of firsts. This first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia is the story of a young girl living in a suburb of Riyadh determined to raise enough money to buy a bike in a society that sees bicycles as dangerous to a girl’s virtue. Even more impressive, WADJDA is the first feature film made by a female Saudi filmmaker. In a country where cinemas are banned and women cannot drive or vote, writer-director Haifaa Al Mansour has broken many barriers with her new film.”1

Wadjda isn’t like the other girls at her school—she’s spunky, sarcastic, and she rocks a pair of worn sneakers. Despite the many restrictions faced by women and girls in her country, Wadjda wants a bicycle more than anything. So when a school competition presents the chance to win enough money for her daring purchase, she knows exactly what she must do.

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Familiar as we are with Western film culture, we rarely, if ever, think about acting as a dangerous or rebellious profession—stuntmen aside. At the start of her career as a filmmaker in a country where there are no cinemas, Haifaa Al Mansour was facing a very different reality.

Of Saudi actresses in general, she explains: “The families denounce them, cut off relations with them, so they are alone against the whole world. I respect them so much for their courage.”2  The lead she cast in the title role of Wadjda, an 11-year-old girl by the name of Waad Mohammed, was no exception: “[Her parents have] told her that she can act until she’s 16, and after that she has to have a respectable profession. But she really shines when she has the camera on her, and she has this rebellious thing in her, so I feel she will resist.”3

Al Mansour’s film gives us a glimpse into facets of the Saudi culture , and makes each of us remember what it’s like to dream bigger than what is expected of us.  It’s won multiple awards, including prizes from the Venice Film Festival, International Film Festival, National Board of Review, Palm Springs International Film Festival, Dubai International Film Festival, and Alliance of Women Film Journalists.4

(In April of 2013, Saudi Arabian women were granted the right to ride bicycles.5)  

It’s movie night, and you know the drill!

Get the popcorn and watch this trailer with us. Then tell us what you think @LeadWLanguages on social media.

Interested in other opportunities to explore the Arabic language? See our Lead with Arabic page for more ideas and check out Qatar Foundation International’s I Speak Arabic campaign.

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