Thanks to friends, I finally got a chance to see the movie Wadjda. It is supposed to be the first Saudi movie but I’ve heard that at least twice before; once with Rotana’s movie Kaif Al Haal and another time with a movie based on a Saudi TV show called Manahi. So technically it’s not really the first but I would say that it’s probably the first good Saudi movie. Finally a movie that gives you an authentic flavor of a country where 70% don’t own their own houses, and where women are educated to work in hospitals and schools but then shackled with guardianship laws and a driving ban. And it does it with just the right amount of subtlety that you end up rooting for the stars, rather than feeling sorry for them.

Wadjda is a spunky 11 year old girl who goes to a neighboring public school and as part of growing up as a Saudi has to watch her mother struggle with the threat of her father becoming polygamous. She gets it into her head that she needs a bicycle but she doesn’t have the money to buy one. So she enters into a Quran recitation contest at school. Yet there are a few things I would change about the movie. First of all it’s made out that it’s normal to punish students in public schools by making them stand outside in the sun. I have never heard of that happening except in the military as a punishment for soldiers. We’re Arabs, we know what the sun does. That’s why long before sunscreen, we cloak ourselves and cover our heads and face when out in the sun. We would never leave a child outside in it. Another thing is the school uniforms. The uniforms are now two piece and have been for at least the past three years. Finally I would get a better translator. The current English subtitles missed parts and mistranslated others.

Otherwise I was completely floored by the movie. Even the parts of the Quran that were recited during Wadja’s practice and contest were just the right ones. It was definitely made by a Saudi woman. This won’t be a spoiler post. Instead I’m going to write about two incidents that I’ve experienced personally which the movie had reminded me of. The first is when it’s hinted that the principal of Wadjda’s school might be living a double life. I remember when I was in high school there was a particularly fundamentalist fellow student. She would get upset when we snuck in magazines at school and talked about our latest celebrity crush. A friend and I took the school-bus back then and there weren’t many within my age group that did. So we were surprised to see the fundamentalist putting on her abaya to leave by the bus gate. She didn’t go on the bus! We followed her and saw her sneak into a car with a young man and take a present from him. At the time her insincerity was extremely shocking to me.

Another incident that the Wadjda movie drudged up for me is listening to my mother try to convince her friend to not take her 10 year old daughter’s beloved skating shoes from her. The woman was telling my mother how she was constantly worried that her daughter might compromise her virginity in a fall.

If you get a chance to see the movie, I highly recommend it.


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40 responses to “Wadjda

  1. Americans don’t own their own houses either.

  2. would love to see the movie

  3. liisarome

    I saw the film in Rome and liked it very much. It tells well how two Saudi women, the mother and the daughter fight for their independence. Having had a good look to the society in Saudi Arabia I found that this film should be seen by largest number of people in and out of Saudi Arabia.

  4. 7غ8هالع


  5. I watched the movie. It is completelly terrible see how misogynist is the theocratic Saudi Arabian society. It seems the political rulers and religious leaders are completely crazy men and really dangerous religious fanatic. The scene where Wadjda stays alone in the school court when there are men in the top of a building regarding her and the principal came to took back Wadjda to the school room is a total dumbness to western and even to eastern eyes as they live in countries where all the schools are mixed! All the arabian women seem to be nuns, as they uses rigorous clothing that covers all the body, excepting the eyes. To me who lives in a country where the couple of students can flirt during the classes, including public kissing, it is really unable to understand this society. Having no right to drive a car means absence of freedom, and means also violation to the Universal Human Rights. The movie is so good to know the women condition in Arabia.

    • Milyi

      Women covering up isn’t that weird. It’s not “Arabian,” it’s “Saudi” and Saudi women mostly choose to cover, and not all of them wear niqab.

      I live in the U.S. and I seriously doubt kids can kiss during class, let alone flirt. Sure, we might flirt, but we’re supposed to be listening to the teachers, not flirting.

      • In the film the women kept after the girls to maintain their purity not the men, thus I think the situation is more complex than we in the West figure.

  6. Anettka van de Mért

    Hi, I saw it at the Transylvanian International Film Festival and this was one of the best movies shown.

  7. Anettka van de Mért

    But can you explain me something? When the father Abdallah has the second wife, the mother says that they are all alone now. As far as I know, unless he divorces he has to provide both families in the same way. This wasn’t clear for me. Did he divorce? Or she is just feeling herself betrayed? Thnxs.

  8. liisarome

    The husband must provide for both families but I dont know if it always happens in an eqalitarian way. Anyway I understood from the film that the wife feels she is betrayed only by the act of husband who takes an other wife. The film do not tell if the the other one is younger or not but I think anyway for the first wife it is an offence as it should be for millions of wives around the world.
    For us Westerners the Saudi society is so conservative and anti-women that who hasn’t seen it, it is difficult to understand and believe it. For the same reason it is difficult for me, as journalist, to tell certain things in the Saudi society and try to see some changes in things that for our Western eyes seem to be so reactionary even in the little expressions of changes. Still for Saudis these little changes are important. You must be aware where you are when you tell certain things about societies that are so far from our societies.

  9. Pingback: وجدة – Wadzsda | vészbejárat – vészbook a nehéz napokra

  10. Anettka van de Mért

    In my childhood the Romanian communism was very much the same, especially the school-scenes, except this religious background and the women’s issues. So I perfectly understand this little tricks, I did the same ones.

  11. Anettka van de Mért

    Wadjda got the public’s prize at Transilvania IFF. Congrats, saudis.

  12. roxana aguilera

    vere el films,pero si la traduccion del arabe esta en ingles ….me perdere
    el mensaje ,una pena.
    me hago presente en este blog para expresar mi solidaridad con las mujeres y las crianças desprotegidas. mi casa esta abierta para uds,soy~

  13. MizLiz

    The Director was interviewed on a national TV program in the USA talking about her film showing in Los Angeles last night. She was so eloquent and I look forward to having an opportunity to seeing her film.

  14. Prithivi

    can anyone help me to get the English subtitle for this movie…..

  15. lili

    I’m a westerner and I totally agree with the saudi norms, I saw the movie and saw that they had the same mentality than me so I don’t think saudi arabia is a bad society I was raised to think like that too about the virginity (no sports to take care of it), always having someone with me, no talk to men, my parents didn’t even put me to school at all (just homeschool) to not become a bad girl so even in the west we have some families who are exactly the same than the ones in saudi lool 😉

  16. Coolred38

    Sort of late commenting but I just wanted to address the “standing in the sun as punishment” comment. Back in the 80’s when I first arrived in Bahrain, my husband’s nieces were in govt schools. Being late in the mornings for school meant you had to stand outside in the court yard until an appropriate amount of time had passed. According to his nieces…that could be anything from minutes to hours. As anyone knows that has lived here, even in the mornings the heat can be quite unbearable.

  17. Speaking as a westerner, I was curious as to why it has taken so long to have a movie made in Saudi Arabia, couldn’t there be the possibility of making and screening films that adhere to Saudi law?

    • Tammy D.

      It is extremely difficult. I read that even making this film was very problematic. They had to discuss in vans, because the female director was not allowed to talk and/or discuss with her male colleagues in public. The filming outside itself happened mostly with the camera inside a car or van.
      Next to that, I think a movie in Saudi would quickly be banned if it is too critical or too negative in any way about Saudi culture. So many investers will not give money to a project that will be so difficult to make and therefor not many filmmakers take the chance to try.

  18. Abdullah Al Mahmood

    I am freaking out to get the english subtitle. Can any of you get me the link. I have been waiting for weeks to see the movie. Thanks, will be grateful.

    • kie

      hello. i was wondering if u got a link to this movie with an english sub? i really want to watch it. i think this movie wouldnt be screened in the philippines

  19. kie

    from the philippines and i really want to see this movie. i got an online link to see the movie but it doesnt have any english subtitles.. sad 😦 does anyone has a link of this movie with an eng sub? prettty please?

  20. I was fortunate to see this film when it came to Washington, DC about one month ago. It was one of my first immersive “Saudi” media experiences experiences. It was delivered in whole scenes, not little sound bytes. Since it was a film, it was still a ‘filtered’ experience, however, it was refreshing to view it through fewer filters, and to have more of them be Saudi filters.

    I think that there is a saying that goes something about threading a camel through the eye of a needle. I think that the director, Haifaa al-Mansour, has done just that. By picking such a small, human story, she seems, to me, to suggest a way forward for one pre-pubescent girl to ride a bicycle. That is a long way from full-grown women freely operating automobiles, but it is a way forward and it is a way forward where the lessons of the Koran ‘won’, or at least, did not have to lose. No person in a position of authority had to lose face for Wadjda to ride. Or for Haifaa al-Mansour to complete her film. That is one of the most striking and beautiful things about it.

    Ten years ago I heard U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young share a story from his father. His father told him one of the most important lessons from the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. It was simply a question, something like “How can advancing Civil Rights be a “win” for white people, the majority?” I think that among the successes of the Civil Rights movement were all of the creative answers to this question.

    In a small and beautiful way, Haifaa al-Mansour has answered a similar question in her film. The Koran “won”. She received official approval for her film and I believe it has been submitted as Saudi Arabia’s nomination to the U.S. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in the Best Foreign Film category by the government. The cultural rules ‘won’. She directed the outside scenes over walkie-talkie with her largely male crew from inside a parked van while she wore the abaya. Her German producers and backers gambled and won – her film got made and has won many awards. Somehow she threaded that camel through the eye of a needle, a thread that weaves through Saudi Culture, and indeed around the world.

    While I hope that tomorrow’s driving action is a win for the drivers and their supporters, particularly those in positions of power, I also hope that it is a win, or at very least not a loss, in particular that there is no shaming, of those who oppose the driving. I’m not Saudi, I’m not a woman, I have never visited that country or that culture, so, what do I know? Nothing. I have only my intuition that somehow Andrew Young’s father’s question could be reframed in a Saudi context. I suppose that every social movement needs its Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and its Malcolm X to succeed. However I also believe that it also needs the majority, or, at least those with the majority of the power, to see their path to be on the right side of history. Something that seems silly, that seems merely face saving, may in fact be very important.

    Perhaps in some small way, technology could provide a stepping stone. Autonomously Navigating Vehicles are emerging as a deployable solution. I am no expert, however, I believe that, market acceptance, the economies of scale, social acceptance and conditioning, training, and so on, are becoming the major problems as any remaining technological challenges fade into the background.

    Is Saudi Arabia ideally positioned to lead the world in the large scale adoption of these technologies, which will cause social change, no matter where they have occurred? Saudis have broadly (from conservative clerics, to comics, to activists) embraced many technologies, not the least of which is social media, could this not be one more, and could it provide the freedom for people on many sides of the issue to see a way for women driving in Saudi Arabia to win? Is it a way for the concerns of conservatives to be respected? Is it also one way for activists to grant themselves the freedoms that they demand? Even though technology is ultimately just, technology, could it also serve as a large enough “tent” under which a broad range of stakeholders can allow, if not agree, for a tiny step forward?

    • mizliz

      Mark, you are so right. When President Johnson signed our Civil Rights Act 50 years ago my mother and I sat and discussed how this was the fair and correct thing that had finally happened in our country. My family had been in Alabama for 200 years and knew what was right- all except for my grandparents who were tied to tied to tradition more so than any hatred. So we would visit them with my mother saying all the way in the car don’t open your mouth when “the adult discussion starts”. Then all the way home we would talk about how wrong they were but they were still good people. It was very confusing to a teenager. I loved them. I respected them. I knew I could never be like them.

      I Had to make a difference with my life. Changes are so slow when we look back. I love what you wrote. Baby steps are frustrasting but they work.

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  27. Да это уже и так всем давно известно.

    Но автору все равно зачот!

  28. Given all the oil money in KSA, I was surprised that there weren’t more new cars, state-of-the-art schools with computers, etc. and good roads and sidewalks.

    Also, I wonder how Saudi’s reacted to the film. This is the only blog I could find about it. Most reactions online were by Westerners, though I searched “Saudi reaction to Wadjda film.”

  29. Pingback: Wadjda | Ruined for Life: Phoenix Edition

  30. Pingback: Wadjda | Mixed Media

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