Haifaa Al Mansour, Waad Mohammed, Wadjda

Haifaa Al Mansour poses with lead actress Waad Mohammed.
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Saudi Arabia is known to be one of the most difficult places on earth to be a woman.  Women there do not have the right to drive or vote.  They are not allowed to hold a job without a male relative’s permission.  They are not even allowed to go out in public without a male relative as an escort.  So, how did one woman write and direct a new film called Wadjda?  She’s breaking all the rules.

Haifaa Al Mansour is the first female film director in Saudi Arabia.  To top that off, she’s also the first person to film a whole movie in the country. Yet, she uniquely understood the challenges and was up to the test.  She knew that she was not allowed to openly speak with her male cast members, so she devised a plan.  Instead of giving up, she used walkie-talkies and directed from inside of a van.  She watched the actors on a monitor.

She ended up with a gem of a film about a 10-year-old girl named Wadjda, played by actress Waad Mohammed, who enters a Koran contest.  The grand prize is a bicycle.  In a country that is so covered-up, this little girl loves rock-and-roll and wears Converse sneakers.  Women only recently got the right to ride a bike in public.

The clincher is that most films are banned in Saudi Arabia due to “immodest content” which can include anything from kissing to holding hands to having a woman’s hair uncovered.  Mansour filmed the movie with the permission of the Saudi Arabian government and is hoping they will allow citizens the right to watch it.

How did the people react to her filming? Mansour said that it was mixed.  In some places people got mad and asked them to leave.  In other places, people were asking if they could be extras in the movie.

Who is this gutsy gal?  She is 38 years old and lives in Bahrain with her American husband, who is a diplomat.  The couple has two children.  Mansour also went to college at an American University in Cairo, Egypt.  She later attended film school in Sydney, Australia.

Growing up, her family was considered very liberal by Saudi standards.  Some of her friends were not even allowed to go to her house when she was growing up.  She hopes her film will inspire men to buy their daughters bicycles.

If you’re interested, the movie is currently playing in the United States.