“Wadjda (وجدة)” is a 2012 Saudi Arabian drama film written and directed by Haifaa al-Mansour. It is Al-Mansour’s first feature-length film.
Set in Saudi Arabia, where women’s rights have been restricted due to Islamic law (Sharia), it depicts a girl who participates in a Quran recital competition to fulfill her dream of riding a bicycle.
The language is Arabic. 98 minutes.
Set in the suburbs of Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia, in the 2000s.
Saudi Arabia is a country known for its strict adherence to conservative interpretations of Islamic law.
Though female empowerment in Saudi Arabia had been promoted little by little at that time, women had been still subordinated to men under the male guardianship system, polygyny and gender segregation laws, and their rights had been restricted in many aspects, such as marriage, divorce, employment, and daily activities.
Women had no right to vote. Women couldn’t get married, travel abroad and play sports without the permission of male guardians.
Women were prohibited from interacting with men outside the family.
Women were forced to cover their whole bodies wearing black clothes, such as “abaya” (cloak) and “hijab” (scarf), in public.
Women were prohibited from driving and riding motorbikes and bicycles.
A 10-year-old tomboy, Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) is living at a middle-class home in the suburbs of Riyadh with her parents, going to a public school for girls.
She always wears basketball shoes and jeans at home. She likes to listen to Western popular music. She is not good at reciting the Quran in school.
Wadjda’s mother (Reem Abdullah) has troubles both at home and work.
Wadjda’s father (Sultan Al Assaf) spends much time away from home. He is preparing to take a second wife because Wadjda’s mother can’t give birth to their son.
Wadjda’s mother is forced to spend three hours getting to work, riding in a car with Iqbal, a hired driver who has a bad attitude.
The strict headmistress Hussa (Ahd) treats Wadjda as a problem child because she goes to school wearing basketball shoes, and habitually violates school rules.
After seeing her neighborhood boyfriend Abdullah (Abdulrahman Al Juhani) going to school by bicycle, Wadjda dreams of riding a bicycle and racing with him.
She finds a green bicycle being sold for SR800 at a toy store.
She says to her mother that she wants to buy the bicycle, but her mother dismisses her claim.
Wadjda saves for the bicycle by selling handmade braiding bracelets for classmates and acting as a go-between between an older student and her secret boyfriend, but Wadjda gets only SR87 in savings and it doesn’t reach the price of the bicycle at all.
Wadjda learns that a Quran recitation competition will be held at her school and they will award SR1000 to the winner.
Wadjda decides to enter the competition to purchase the bicycle with the cash prize.
She begins to practice reciting the Quran hard, joining the religion club at school, and purchasing a PlayStation quiz game for learning the Quran at the toy store.
The film “Wadjda” is the first full-length feature to be shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, and the first feature-length film made in Saudi Arabia by a female director.
The story of the film evolves around three relations: a bond between Wadjda and her mother, a friendship between Wadjda and Abdullah, and a conflict between Wadjda and the headmistress Hussa.
“Wadjda” is a precious film that offers a rare glimpse into the lives of women and girls in Saudi Arabia in the 2000s. It also captures a sign of change of the circumstances surrounding women in Saudi Arabia at that time.
In 2013, the Saudi Arabian government allowed women to ride bicycles in parks and recreational facilities with some restrictions. In 2018, the government lifted the ban on women driving.
The film premiered at the 69th Venice International Film Festival in 2012.
It was nominated for Best Film Not in the English Language at the 67th BAFTA Awards in 2014.