Meet Wadjda, a little girl with BIG DREAMS
A poignantly triumphant movie, the storyline of “Wadjda” is just as phenomenal as the story of how the film came to be. In short, “Wadjda” represents quite a number of firsts. It’s the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, a country in which cinema is prohibited. Writer and director Haifaa Al Mansour is Saudi Arabia’s first female filmmaker. It is also the first submission from Saudi Arabia for the Foreign Language Category for the 2014 Academy Awards.
Set in a country known for its repression of women, the movie follows our title character—a 10-year-old spirited girl—in her journey to buy a new bicycle so she can race her best friend, neighbor, and crush Abdullah. Even though Wadjda’s mother warns her to stay away from both bikes and boys because of their culture’s strict customs, Wadjda is determined to buy her bike with her own hard-earned money, no matter what the consequences. This, in turn, leads to joining a Koran competition at school. If she wins, she will have more than enough to buy a bike, and therefore beat the boy next door.
Subtly, the film explores the repercussions from this society in which girls should only be seen, not heard—and in public, only their eyes should be seen, with the rest of their faces covered by black veils. Wadjda tests boundaries in her search for freedom of expression. Although she discovers the contradictions in her world, she’s determined to challenge women’s traditional roles. The movie covers major topics such as polygamy and child-brides, as well as smaller oppressions like the restriction of driving and rules of women in the presence of men.
It’s mind-blowing that a movie about the oppression of women was made in the exact environment it depicts. On DVD, the making-of featurette goes in-depth on the struggles and challenges that faced director Haifaa Al Mansour. The line, “respectable girls go inside,” is said to Wadjda in the film, and Mansour confronted the same problems. She had to direct her cast out-of-sight using a walkie-talkie to communicate with her cast and a monitor to watch the filming. She could not be seen working with men, and often, when religious officials would come to inspect the bustle, production would be halted and moved to another location. It took close to five years to make the movie, but every effort was worth it.
First timer Waad Mohammed is perfect as the fun-loving rebel Wadjda. Pacing may be slow for kids under ten, but “Wadjda” is truly a landmark film that the world needs to watch. Perhaps the most uplifting message is that although the plot is fiction, the remarkable story behind the movie is not, and that shows that revolution is possible.