The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

If you’re not a feminist already, you’ll be one after watching Wadjda

with 11 comments


My 19 year old daughter announced to me from London that she’d had a tattoo made on her ankle. The motive was the female symbol, the circle with a cross beneath it. “I know that I’m going to be a feminist for the rest of my life”, she explained to her mother, who usually is a sceptic towards tattoos, at least when it involves her own children.

As time has passed, her mother has come to terms with the tattoo and even started appreciate it. It seems to help my daughter to stay strong and remain sane in a society that hasn’t come as far as she’s used to in terms of gender equality. She recently reported about yet another bad incident at the gym, which left her upset and infuriated. “Days like this I look at my tattoo to remind myself that I’m a strong, ass-kicking woman”.

If my daughter founds London somewhat misogynistic, I wonder what she’d make of living in Saudi Arabia. The level of oppression that the Saudi Arabian women experience every day makes the everyday sexism we encounter in Europe seem trivial.

The reason why I’m bringing this up is that I recently watched the Saudi Arabian film Wadjda.

A miracle
It’s a bit of a miracle that this film could be made at all in a country where there isn’t such a thing as a theatre (I reckon it’s considered a “sin” of some sort) and where women spend most of their days hiding, behind a veil or behind curtains in houses in order not to be seen by men. Not only is this movie about women, and particularly about one girl, Wadjda, who doesn’t silently accept the role that has been given her, but rebels against it in her own way. It’s also directed by a woman, Haifaa Al-Mansour, who in order to be able to do the outdoor shootings had to hide in a van and do the direction from a distance. I can only imagine what she’s gone through in order to make this film at all. She must have a mighty good tattoo somewhere on her body, providing her strength.

The story is simple. 10 year old Wadjda looks like most other 10 year old girls when she’s dressed in the mandatory veil and dark foot-long dress. But she wears converse shoes, listens to pop music at home and is great at playing video games – all things that are considered unsuitable for girls. Her rebellious attitude regularly puts her into trouble at school.

One day her life takes a new turn as she sees a green bike for sale. She wants that bike badly, so she decides to raise the money herself, which ultimately brings her to a Koran reciting competition.

I found Wadjda pretty upsetting to watch. While I’ve read in the newspapers about the oppression of women in Saudi Arabia and that they for instance aren’t allowed to drive a car, it gets much closer to you when you see it played out like this. Wadjda is of course an imaginative girl, but her experiences are shared with thousands and thousands of girls.

As much as I understand that people live in different ways in different countries and that we should respect cultural differences, not forcing a western lifestyle upon everyone, what we see here is completely unacceptable. There’s one half of the population keeping the other half as slaves and prisoners in their own homes, treating them as things rather than as human beings with equal rights.

This is exemplified, not in big gestures, but in small, but telling scenes, which on several occasions brought tears into my eyes. One example is when Wadjda talks to her mother about the family tree that her absent father has put on the wall. In vain she’s looking for her own name until her mother says that she should stop looking, because it’s only men on the tree, they’re the only ones that count. Wadjda then takes a note, writes down he own name and attaches it to the tree, as an additional leaf. But the next day she finds the note crumbled on the floor. Someone didn’t think she belonged on the tree.

A new hope
However there isn’t just misery in the film: there’s hope too. Wadjda is a survivor. She reminds me a bit of Hushpuppy from Beasts of the Southern Wild. It takes more the joint forces of the Saudi Arabian culture to break her.

And there are more Wadjdas out there, such as the women who recently drove cars against the law. Change is in the air and no matter what happens, they should never forget that they are strong, kick-ass women who rightfully claim their rights as human beings.

I hope they have tattoos on their ankles as a reminder.

Wadjda (Haifaa Al-Mansour, Saudi Arabia 2013) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

November 18, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Posted in Wadjda

11 Responses

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  1. Beautiful post, Jess. Very curious about this movie and I commend everyone behind it for getting it made. I agree that women being treated “as slaves and prisoners in their own homes…as things rather than as human beings with equal rights” is completely unacceptable.


    November 18, 2013 at 7:39 pm

    • Thank you Fernando. The treatment they get is definitely unacceptable. I don’t buy arguments about respect of their religion and tradition. Women there are obviously not granted the human rights. There’s no way around that. And it’s about time that they get our support.


      November 24, 2013 at 3:29 pm

  2. As you describe with your daughter, I, too, have been frustrated and enraged by the casual misogyny of the Western world, and I cannot imagine the life that Saudi Arabian women have. (Btw, your daughter sounds awesome!)

    Thanks for your lovely review. I’ve been eager to see this film, and I hope it comes my way soon!

    • Thank you so very much! I think this film is great in the way that it shows how much alike we are. It’s easy to assume that girls in Saudi Arabia somehow are different to girls here, but that’s not the case. She wants to ride a bike as much as anyone else and why shouldn’t she? I hope that this film can lead to that more pressure is put on the regime in countries like this to start treating women as full worthy human beings. We shouldn’t turn our backs to our fellow women over there.I hope this film will get a distribution in US. I’ve seen a few mentionings here and there, so I’m hopeful.


      November 24, 2013 at 3:27 pm

  3. Brilliant review Jessica. This has shot way up on my to list see list. Thanks.

    Mark Walker

    November 18, 2013 at 9:23 pm

  4. This sounds fascinating – I’ve read one other review of this and I’m really looking forward to seeing it as a result.

    Popcorn Nights

    November 19, 2013 at 9:28 am

    • Great! I hope it will get some distribution. I think it’s been mentioned in Oscar terms, so perhaps that could help.


      November 24, 2013 at 3:22 pm

  5. Sounds like a very interesting film Jessica, thanks for shining a light on it!


    November 22, 2013 at 9:10 am

    • Thanks! I hope you’ll get to see it. It really gives insight into what it’s like to be a woman in Saudi-Arabia.


      November 24, 2013 at 3:21 pm

  6. […] Wadjda A punk girl in Saudia Arabia and her drem of a cycle. Infuriating with a little rim of hope. […]

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