Directed by Haifaa Al Mansour, the first female filmmaker in Saudi Arabia, WADJDA is the first full-length feature ever filmed entirely in the Kingdom. A beautiful story of hope and perseverance, it centers on a sweet, but spirited 10-year-old girl who pushes the boundaries of what her conservative Islamic culture, her traditional mother and her religious school allow girls to do.
Wadjda lives in a suburb of Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, with her father, who is gone for long stretches due to his job, and her mother, who aside from working long hours, is preoccupied by the fear that she will soon be replaced by a second wife because she can’t have any more children… and all her “handsome” husband wants is a son.
While other girls are doing what they are expected to, Wadjda, a bit of a rebellious, trouble maker, is doing everything she shouldn’t… making mix tapes of American music, braiding bracelets she sells to classmates, not wearing her head scarf to school, and playing with a neighborhood boy, Abdullah, who sees her not as JUST a girl, but as a dear friend.
“You won’t ever be able to have children if you ride a bike!”
Thoroughly entertained by their back and forth banter, yet totally frustrated by her one disadvantage in their ongoing rivalry, Wadjda is desperate to have what Abdullah has – a bicycle – primarily so she can beat him in a bike race and finally have the upper hand.
She spots the bike she wants, a super cool, shiny new green bicycle, but her entrepreneurial earnings are not nearly enough to cover the cost. Her mother refuses to loan her any money, fearing repercussions from a society that sees bicycles as dangerous to a girl’s virtue. She exclaims, “You won’t ever be able to have children if you ride a bike!” Undeterred, Wadjda decides to try and raise the money herself.
But the budding entrepreneur’s plans are soon thwarted when she’s caught running her various money making schemes at school (taking cash for errands, selling her bracelets, etc.). On the verge of losing hope of ever raising enough money for the green bicycle of her dreams, her school announces a Koran recitation competition with a cash prize (plenty to buy the bike)… not an easy challenge for a girl like Wadjda, but she refuses to give up. She is determined to continue fighting for her dreams…
“I come from a small town in Saudi Arabia where there are many girls like Wadjda who have big dreams, strong characters and so much potential. These girls can, and will, reshape and redefine our nation.” – Haifaa Al Mansour
About The Director
Haifaa Al Mansour is the first female filmmaker in Saudi Arabia and is regarded as one of the most significant cinematic figures in the Kingdom. She finished her bachelor’s degree in Literature at the American University in Cairo and completed a Master’s degree in Directing and Film Studies from the University of Sydney.
The success of her three short films, as well as the international acclaim of her award-winning 2005 documentary Women Without Shadows, influenced a whole new wave of Saudi filmmakers and made the issue of opening cinemas in the Kingdom a front-page discussion.
Within Saudi Arabia, Haifaa is famous for penetrating the wall of silence surrounding the sequestered lives of Saudi women and providing a platform for their unheard voices. Her work is both praised and vilified for encouraging discussion on topics generally considered taboo, like tolerance, the dangers of orthodoxy, and the need for Saudis to take a critical look at their traditional and restrictive culture.
After the great success of her feature film, Wadjda, which won a number of international prizes, Haifaa is currently working on a new film, A Storm in the Stars. It will be the filmmaker’s first Hollywood production, an opportunity she describes as a “dream come true”, and tells the story of 19th century British novelist Mary Shelley.
In a recent interview about the project, Haifaa said, “The film is about a young girl, Mary Shelley, who dreams of writing a novel and express herself in a tough and conservative society. I have read Emma Jensen’s script and I loved it and the character of Mary Shelley, who defied society in order to write her Frankenstein novel.”