Haifaa Al-Mansour

A country with no public cinemas will compete in the Oscars for the first time next year. Saudi Arabia will enter the film “Wadjda,” the first full-length feature film shot there in its entirety. But even more extraordinary — in a country where women aren’t allowed to drive and lack other basic rights — is that the film was directed by a woman. Haifaa Al-Mansour, Saudi Arabia’s first female film director, joins us to discuss the challenges of making “Wadjda,” the story of a 10-year-old girl who wants to own a bicycle.

Haifaa Al-Mansour, director of "Wadjda" and the award-winning documentary "Women Without Shadows"


    The way women are treated in Saudi Arabia is demeaning to all women because they are seen as sexual objects subhumans, it also brings shame on the whole Arabic community because most Americans and others use it to stereo type all other countries of the Middle East where women are treated with dignity and have more equal rights as men. In Egypt for example women attended schools and universities since the 1840’s. The year 1919 Egyptian revolution was initiated by women led by Huda Shaarawi and Sofia Zaghloul , such revolution led to the return of better government and threw the British troops out of Cairo. . During my studies at Cairo University in the early 1960’s near one have of the students in my classes were women and most were dressed in in casual cloths and some wore mini skirts , and not a single woman had a head cover, something which have changed recently because of the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood….The custom of having women cover up is not at all part of Islam, rather it came about 1000 years later when it was imposed by the Ottoman empire and it was brought about by jealous women who did not want their husbands to look at more attractive women.than them self….The way I see it Saudi men see women as a piece of flesh which only good to have sex with as well having babies…Please ask you guest about the fire that killed 70 girls in a school, because the firemen who were all men were prevented from going inside the girls dorms.

  • saimin

    Will this film be shown in San Francisco?

  • amyj1276

    When traveling in Southern Africa I came across several British women and families who have been living and working as teachers in Saudi for many years. I was very taken aback about how apologetic they all were about Saudi policies about women, especially as women themselves. I am hugely hopeful that this film and other modern-day technology, coupled with increased worldwide pressure and, importantly, political pressure, will change Saudi policy at an increased pace.

  • James Dinwiddie

    I lived and worked in Eastern Saudi Arabia near the Persian Gulf . My students were all males in a sexually segregated society. I have also taught Saudi females in the U.S.

    What I experienced and witnessed there convinced me that the Saudi kingdom is an oppressive, prison-state environment not unlike any totalitarian state. The oppression in Saudi comes from their religion. Saudi Islam (Wahabism) is the mainstay of the country and, because Saudi Arabia is the host for millions of pilgrims traveling to Mecca, the model for worldwide Islamic faithful.

    Your guest has provided a valuable insight in her film by portraying the overt discrimination against Saudi women. Unfortunately, most Saudi women have sublimated their oppression to the extent that they will defend it, and argue that this oppression and discrimination is required by their religion and a better way for them to live. They will offer all kinds of irrational arguments to rationalize their situation.

    In this case, it is not enough to say, as Ms. Mansour said, that “The situation is imperfect”, or “it’s a very traditional society”. To the women and men of Saudi Arabia, this situation should be intolerable as offending the principles of equality and human dignity. However, getting the Muslims of Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Muslim world to recognize that a problem even exists has been the challenge. This tendency toward denial and resistance to self-reflection has made the Saudi kingdom the anachronism it is today — a hide-bound, discriminatory, Islamic patriarchy commanding the world’s most strategic resource. Asking the rest of the world to accept their worldview as the cultural privilege of their “traditional society” contradicts the principles of universalism and the supremacy of reason so important to our freedoms.

  • My fellow Americans have a strange habit of leveling strong critiques at other nations, through one or another of their representative individuals, (often an artist), and in the process getting things terribly wrong. For example, in the comment below, the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims do not in any significant way widely regard Wahhabism, the narrow sectarian prosaic interpretation of Islam, as “the model of worldwide Islamic faithful” (whatever that ungrammatical phrase may mean). Most pilgrims who come to Mecca can barely tolerate this view, but they are there to perform a pilgrimage, not to write a pompous email. It would be better if we Americans let artists who are risking their necks to say something meaningful go ahead and do just that, possibly inspiring some of the oppressed people in her country with her movie, while we for our own part turn our attention to our own exceedingly messy and hypocritical backyards.

  • “By comment below”, in my previous email, I meant to indicate the comment left here by James D. in which it is claimed that Wahhabism is somehow the “model” for Islam among the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims. This is a complete fabrication, as anyone familiar with Islam can tell you. I agree with his remark that Saudi Arabia as presently governed is a totalitarian state. That is why Ms. Al-Mansour’s movie matters. The remark that “getting the Muslims of Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Muslim world to recognize that a problem even exists has been the challenge” rings strangely. Quite the contrary, I would say, looking at recent upheavals across the region. This is what I meant below, about Americans sounding off on the tragedies of other nations as if we, somehow, held the moral high ground. I find this embarrassing as an American citizen.

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