Posted: October 27th, 2022

Black studies thirdworld cinema

 1.  Explore, with examples from readings and national cinemas so far, the complexities of ‘Third World Cinema’, their vast spheres of imagination, representation, intervention, and contestations.  

2. pick one from three 

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 a) With attention to each film’s narrative realms and trajectories, analyze the themes of society, childhood, marginality, and struggles for self-determination in The Second Mother and Heli.  

 b) Discuss, with requisite references to their social, political, economic and aesthetic dynamics, the discourses of community and resistance in The Harder They Come and Sugar Cane Alley. 

 c) Referencing the film’s context of production, examine how critical configurations, anchored in feminist sensibilities, religion, culture and community shape the narrative dynamics of Wadjda.  

Wadjda, Sight and Sound, Review

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

McGill, Hannah
Sight and Sound; Aug 2013; 23, 8; Performing Arts Periodicals Database
pg. 90

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Wadjda, Cineaste, Review

CINEASTE, Fall 2013 51

on which she writes that he would be good as
“a gentle, big, dumb nice guy.”

This isn’t the place to engage in a long
discussion of typecasting. (See Pamela
Robertson Wojcik’s essay on the topic in her
anthology, Movie Acting: The Film Reader
[Routledge, 2004]). Suffice it to say that the
creation of character in plays or movies
always involves an interaction between type
and individual. Marilyn Monroe played a
type—the dumb blonde—but she was also a
particular individual whose performing traits
made the type feel radiantly sexy, touching,
and ideologically complex. Most kinds of
theater and film involve typing. Shake-
speare’s actors specialized in typed roles, and
classic Hollywood actors played modern
types associated with certain physical traits.
The early Soviet cinema employed typage,
based on the notion that the actor should
embody the social class of the character and
if possible come from that class (in practice
this meant that proletarians looked heroical-
ly muscular and capitalists looked bloated).
The neorealists cast amateur actors, but
those actors often were typecast. Brecht
rejected typage and did cast against type, but
his theater was deeply concerned with social
class and involved typed behavior. Casting
against type can overturn cliché and be aes-
thetically or politically effective; even so, you
need the type in order to cast against it.

Films with large casts often involve a mix-
ture of casting strategies. Consider Marlon
Brando’s One-Eyed Jacks (1961): Karl
Malden is cast against type; Ben Johnson and
Slim Pickens are examples of Hollywood
typage (both were cowboys before becoming
actors); and Katy Jurado, Pina Pellicer, and
Timothy Carey are typecast, although each
brings a unique quality to their role. In simi-
lar fashion, casting directors use a mix of
strategies. In Casting By Lynn Stalmaster
recalls how he found a local Georgia boy,
Billy Joe Redden, for the “dueling banjos”
sequence in Deliverance (1972)—a technique
one might describe as neorealist typage.

Where Marion Dougherty is concerned,
her major achievement seems less a matter
of casting against type than of seizing upon
changed conditions in the entertainment
industry. She found new faces and new per-
forming styles on stages in New York, and
used them to help create a “New York look”
in films of the Sixties and Seventies. Given
the emphasis on naturalist performance in
the period, her casting choices also put less
emphasis on glamour than classic Holly-
wood had done.

Today’s industry, especially the part rep-
resented by tent-pole Hollywood, has
changed once again, except in gross-out
comedies. “They want younger, hotter peo-
ple,” casting director Risa Brandon Garcia
tells us in Casting By. But the values
Dougherty brought to her job left their
mark on an important period of American
cinema, and fortunately they haven’t disap-
peared.—James Naremore

Produced by Roman Paul and Gerhard
Meixner; written and directed by Haifaa Al
Mansour; cinematography by Lutz
Reitemeier; production design by Thomas
Molt; edited by Andreas Wodraschke;
costume design by Peter Pohl; starring Waad
Mohammed, Reem Abdullah, Abdullrahman
Al Gohani, Ahd, and Sultan Al Assaf. Color,
112 min., Arabic dialog with English subtitles.
A Sony Pictures Classics release,

Wadjda is a film about a quietly defiant
ten-year-old Saudi girl, which few Saudi Ara-
bians will see. The kingdom does not have a
single movie theater. Haifaa Al Mansour’s
debut feature, which is the first to be made in
Saudi Arabia by a woman, employing an all-
Saudi cast, will eventually wend its way into
Saudi homes rigged with illegal satellite dish-
es. For Westerners, Wadjda provides a first
look at middle-class life in the kingdom,
especially that of women and girls, with an
upbeat narrative that portends imminent
social change. For members of this conserva-
tive Islamic society, Wadjda and her emo-
tionally estranged parents are emblematic of
the clash of fundamentalist Sunni law and
tribal customs with those of an increasingly
educated and progressive class.

Wadjda opens with an image of feet clad
in black shoes and white, lace-edged ankle
socks, followed by a quick shot of school-
girls in modified black abayas intoning reli-
gious verses. Then, the line of shoes parts to
reveal Wadjda’s (Waad Mohammed) navy
sneakers. (The young actress wore the same
brand to her audition.) For any Saudi citizen
broadminded enough to watch this human
rights film, the visual pun that first endears

us to Al Mansour’s protagonist presents a
discomforting illustration of nonconformi-
ty, as it does for the headmistress at Wadj-
da’s madrassah. The girl’s blue sneakers and
purple shoelaces and, later, her azure nail
polish, are shocking spots of color, whiffs of
dissent, subverting the anonymity of her
mandated black attire. In a country where
nearly every art form, save the chanting of
Quranic verse, is forbidden by the clerics
and enforced by mutaween, the brutal reli-
gious police, Wadjda is in itself a triumph.

Wadjda’s story really begins about ten
minutes into the movie, in a delightful
point-of-view shot of a bicycle that seems to
be in motion along the top of a stone wall.
Actually, it is mounted on a truck that Wad-
jda follows to a local shop. The gleaming
green bike costs far more than what Wadjda
has saved from her many entrepreneurial
pursuits, so she begins needling her mother
for the cash, until she learns of a competi-
tion at school that awards prize money,
which would allow her to buy the bike. It
involves mastering Quranic verses—some-
thing in which Wadjda has no interest and
that she soon realizes is an enormous task.
Meanwhile, the shopkeeper, from whom
Wadjda extracts a tenuous promise not to
sell the bike to anyone else, comes to admire
the brazen girl who presents him with a mix
tape to seal the bargain. Wadjda has another
ally, her friend Abdullah (Abdullrahman Al
Gohani), who abandons soccer games with
other boys just to walk alongside her.

Like Iranian films featuring child protag-
onists, which are allegories of that state’s
contemporary social and political conflicts,
Al Mansour’s story of a girl who yearns for
freedom of movement is a critique of the
Wahhabi stranglehold on Saudi life. At one
point in the movie, Wadjda’s otherwise

Ten-year-old Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) is determined to come up with enough money
to buy this green bicycle in Haifaa Al Mansour’s Wadjda (photo by Tobias Kownatzki).


52 CINEASTE, Fall 2013

indulgent mother (Reem Abdullah) refuses
to allow Abdullah to string lights across the
roof of their home for his uncle’s upcoming
political rally. He is not a member of the
Wahhabi tribe, and they are. Wahhabi war-
riors, the Ikhwan (“Brotherhood”), were
instrumental in establishing the Al Saud
monarchy, and the two remain aligned
through the Ulema, a group of Muslim cler-
ics, not unlike Iran’s ruling caliphs. This
confederacy has weathered several uprisings,
some quite recent, by descendants of the
original Ikhwan who want to depose the Al
Sauds and establish a “pure” Islamic state.
Wahhabi madrassahs, such as the one Wadj-
da attends in the movie, indoctrinate young
people into the most extreme form of Islam,
perpetuating the orthodoxy that remains the
hallmark of Saudi culture.

Wadjda ignores her mother’s wishes and
invites Abdullah to hang the lights, provided
he brings his bicycle along and teaches her to
ride it. Respectable girls do not ride bikes in
Saudi, and while Abdullah at first resists,
Wadjda’s crocodile tears seal his promise. At
home, Wadjda listens to rock music on an
underground radio channel, clad in jeans and
a T-shirt. She braids bracelets with soccer
team colors to sell at school, even though it is
against the rules. Soon after the contest
announcement, Wadjda joins a religious club
to master the Quran, convincing many of her
classmates and the headmistress that she is
ready to conform. From the standpoint of
Western audiences, this ruse is hardly offen-
sive; it is a revolt against authority that estab-
lishes the hero’s identity. We admire Wadjda’s
pluck and intelligence, and root for her suc-
cess, despite Al Mansour’s niggling visual and
narrative cues suggesting that, while Wadjda
is shielded somewhat by virtue of her social
class and her working mother’s progressive
viewpoints, she lives in a theocratic state.

Wadjda provides a dramatic picture of
how the women’s abayas, paired with hijabs
and niqabs (face veils), erase them from
public life entirely, and in Wadjda’s madras-
sah, there are glimpses of how the girls first
become inured to it. As Wadjda looks on,
Ms. Hussa (Ahd) reminds two noisy stu-
dents that “a woman’s voice is her naked-
ness,” a reference to the Quran. She admon-
ishes Wadjda for playing hopscotch in the
schoolyard in view of construction workers
perched on a nearby roof. Often, the planes
of the school building, even its exterior
walls, appear to ensnare the students; in fact,
Wadjda’s punishment for failing to wear her
hijab is to stand in the searing heat of the
school’s sun-drenched courtyard. If the
madrassah feels like an oubliette and Ms.
Hussa its guardian beast, Al Mansour never-
theless avoids easy conclusions about Wadj-
da’s education. At school, girls learn how to
survive Saudi’s oppressive patriarchy. While
we never learn Ms. Hussa’s backstory, in the
scene in which she compares her girlhood
self to Wadjda, the implication is that some-
thing terrible happened to her that sent her

scurrying for protection. Her position pro-
vides that protection, and power as well.

Al Mansour often frames Wadjda and
Abdullah, together and separately, in long
shot, their backdrop a series of forbidding
empty lots and construction sites. As Wadjda
traverses one sandy parcel, a worker hurls
sexual remarks, extending the feeling of fore-
boding from the previous scene at school in
which Ms. Hussa silences the garrulous girls.
Suddenly, the many shades of Wadjda’s vul-
nerability are palpable, Al Mansour height-
ening our sensibilities to the dangers all
Saudi women and girls confront in a society
where men move freely and women are con-
strained, judged by the measure of their
modesty. Not unlike what her characters
might have encountered in similar circum-
stances had they been just a few years older,
Al Mansour received threats for mixing with
male members of her Saudi and German
crew while on location in Riyadh. (Wadjda’s
producers are Roman Paul and Gerhard
Meixner, known for Paradise Now, Waltz
with Bashir, and The Patience Stone.) Mar-
ried or unmarried, Saudi women are rarely
in the company of unrelated men, custom
and Wahhabi interpretation of the Quran
deeming such behavior as provocative.

Wadjda can be perceived as a coming-of-
age story, but the girl’s perspicacity pushes
the boundaries of that interpretation. Like
all rebels spawned in hypocrisy, Wadjda can
no more ignore the deceit at her new
madrassah than she can the insincerity in
her own family. She learns that Ms. Hussa
has a lover, yet when an older classmate of
Wadjda’s enjoys a brief tryst with her
boyfriend, Ms. Hussa sees to it that she is
arrested by the mutaween. In her private
life, Wadjda discovers that, while her father
may love her, girls are of no account in a
Wahhabi family. As has been the tradition
since Abdulaziz Al Saud founded the king-
dom—recording the births of his forty-five
sons while leaving his daughters uncounted
and unnamed—Wadjda’s father denies her a
place in his family tree. In a heartrending
scene, she scribbles her name on a sheet of
paper and attaches it to the poster of her
paternal family’s roots only later to find it
torn off and discarded.

Similarly misogynist practices figure into
the plot of Wadjda, especially in the marital
relationship of Wadjda’s parents. We learn
early in the film that Wadjda’s paternal grand-
mother is seeking another wife for her son.
Wadja’s mother (referred to simply as “Moth-
er” in the credits) can no longer bear children,
so under the laws of polygamy exclusively
reserved for men, her husband (Sultan Al
Assaf) can take another wife in order to pro-
duce a male heir. He can even abandon his
present family with impunity. If she sues for
divorce, Mother needs several male family
members to represent her in an Islamic
“court” because women have no legal standing
in Saudi. They cannot open a bank account
without the permission of their fathers or hus-

bands and are prevented from leaving home
without a male chauffeur because only men
are permitted to drive. Mother nearly loses her
job when an argument leads to her driver’s
refusal to pick her up.

If Al Mansour appears to sidestep issues
of physical abuse, for instance, by portraying
an educated family, it is what she knows.
She had lenient parents, a mother who was a
social worker and a poet-father who liked to
watch movies with his family, and allowed
his daughter to ride her bike in their back-
yard. The filmmaker does touch on the issue
of child brides in a scene at a religious club
meeting. Wadjda and her classmates discov-
er that a student of about her age has just
been married to an older man in a match
arranged by her family. Violence against
women and girls in the form of rape or
physical abuse is not addressed beyond this
scene, although at one point Wadja’s moth-
er mentions that a driver kept a female
friend trapped in a car for three hours over a
minor squabble. The character of Ms. Hussa
is obviously an opportunity to illustrate the
role women play in perpetuating the reli-
gious patriarchy, and in fostering an atmos-
phere of suspicion and mistrust. After an
instance of harmless physical contact
between two girls in the courtyard of the
madrassah, Ms. Hussa bans all hand holding
and forbids the students to exchange gifts.

In an April interview with this reviewer,
Al Mansour admitted that some self-
imposed limits on portraying life in the
kingdom derived from a desire not to alien-
ate Western audiences. Setting Wadjda on
Saudi soil, and casting native-born perform-
ers, posed substantial challenges, yet allowed
Al Mansour to accomplish the goal she set
out for herself as the kingdom’s first female
filmmaker—to tell a universal story through
the eyes of a Saudi girl. Saudi is widely con-
demned by human rights organizations for
its treatment of women and girls, yet Al
Mansour points to small signs of progress,
such as the first appearance of Saudi female
athletes at the 2012 Olympic Games. Her
optimism is reflected in her spunky heroine
and, in some measure, by Abdullah’s grow-
ing admiration for Wadjda’s vitality.

Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, a Saudi
luminary, lent significant support to Wadjda
and served as producer. A nephew of the
king and an advocate for women’s rights, he
is among the richest men in the world, and
employs many women at his media compa-
ny in Riyadh, where they are required to
wear Western dress and to be observant
Muslims. (They also must be thin, as the
prince himself says in the Icarus Films docu-
mentary, Saudi Solutions.) His holdings in
mass-media companies will likely provide a
broadcast vehicle for Wadjda in the Middle
East. Jordan’s Queen Noor, known for her
philanthropic initiatives to aid women,
attended the Tribeca Film Festival screening
and after-party for Wadjda.

While such connections to Saudi royalty


CINEASTE, Fall 2013 53

undoubtedly benefit the film, Al Mansour’s
casting of two well-known Saudi actresses in
costarring roles helped to surmount the
worst hurdles. Reem Abdullah is a popular
television star, a member of the cast of Tash
Ma Tash (“No Big Deal”), a comedy show
that airs surprising satires of Wahhabi
teachings. (A banned episode about the reli-
gious police, with English subtitles, can be
seen at:
Ahd, who plays Ms. Hussa, recently
appeared in Serenity (2013), a short she
wrote and directed, which was screened at
the Berlinale. The actress, who studied in the
United States, gives an exceptionally
nuanced performance, communicating
unexplored depths in Ms. Hussa’s vindictive
nature. Reem Abdullah’s film debut is less
impressive; she never adequately conveys
her character’s anguish over her husband’s
possible abandonment. In light of her seem-
ingly contradictory roles as observant Mus-
lim wife and freethinking woman, it is diffi-
cult for Western audiences to grasp the
courage in Mother’s final decision to end
her marriage.

Waad Mohammed, with the gangly
stature of adolescence intact, peers into mir-
rors looking for her mother’s beauty to be
reflected there, and shrugs. Yet, when the
boy Abdullah tells her she is entirely on her
own in confronting her mother’s recalci-
trant driver in an immigrant squat at the
edge of town, there is a flash of the woman
she will become. It is a sublime perfor-
mance, a combination of the twelve-year-
old’s integrity and Al Mansour’s conjuring
of her own girlhood self. For the writer-
director, Wadjda embodies an imagined his-
torical moment: a girl atop her bike on a
Riyadh street, her unfettered hair caught by
the wind, when no male guardian has given
her permission to be there.—Maria Garcia

Produced by Sam Englebardt, William D.
Johnson, Elizabeth Karlsen, Alan Moloney,
and Stephen Woolley; directed by Neil
Jordan; screenplay by Moira Buffini, from her
play A Vampire Story; cinematography by
Sean Bobbitt; production design by Simon
Elliott; costume design by Consolata Boyle;
edited by Tony Lawson; music by Javier
Navarrete; starring Gemma Arterton, Saoirse
Ronan, Sam Riley, Jonny Lee Miller, Caleb
Landry Jones, Daniel Mays, Uri Gavriel, Tom
Hollander, and Maria Doyle Kennedy. Color,
118 min. An IFC Films release,

Some things never grow old: bloodsuck-
ing succubae for one thing, several of Neil
Jordan’s directorial preoccupations for
another. Watching Byzantium, it’s hard to
demur when the angst-ridden eternal ado-
lescent at the movie’s heart muses at one
point that “we’ve been here before.” Despite

being conceived and written by another
artist altogether (playwright and screen-
writer Moira Buffini), Jordan’s seventeenth
feature offers a compendium of visual and
narrative motifs, mannerisms, and make-
believe familiar from his earlier work. Most
obvious of all is the fact that Byzantium’s
central protagonists are undead: Although
first seen eking out a hand-to-mouth exis-
tence in present-day England, mother-and-
daughter duo Clara (Gemma Arterton) and
Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) have become vam-
pires some two centuries previous. As Jor-
dan freely notes in numerous promotional
interviews, that fantastical structuring con-
ceit and narrative timescale makes Byzan-
tium “a companion piece” to his most com-
mercially successful feature, 1994’s Interview
with the Vampire. None of this, however, is
to suggest that viewers who have found
themselves unconvinced by this director’s
full-blooded signature—that attempts to
meld Gothic fantasy and social realism, pop-
ular genre appeal and auteurist self-expres-
sion—should automatically avoid his latest
movie according to the principle: once bit-
ten, twice shy.

Byzantium’s narrative is, well, byzantine.
Summarizing the film’s story is no straight-
forward or speedy task, and leaves one feel-
ing rather like the character of Eleanor with-
in the work itself, diligently filling journal
page upon journal page with a dutiful
chronology of unlikely twists and (re)turns
from the dead. But there are several reasons
why setting out the movie’s plot at length is
a useful thing to do. Firstly, it acts as a salu-
tary reminder that one key trademark of
much/most of Neil Jordan’s cinema involves
its frequently full-blooded engagement with
the lurid pleasures, and potential pratfalls,
of genre narrative: fantasy, horror, and

melodrama most especially of all. Secondly,
retracing Byzantium’s story arc in detail
underscores the remarkably intensive and
extensive nature of the film’s engagement
with other aspects of, and tropes from, its
director’s oeuvre—a quality that is perhaps
surprising, given that this project represents
one of only a small number of occasions in
Jordan’s prolific career when he has not
assumed scriptwriting as well as directorial
duties. Yet despite this fact, and as the film-
maker himself notes in an interview in this
issue of Cineaste, “there was a strange inter-
face” between his latest feature and “a lot of
the films I had done” previously—recount-
ing Byzantium’s plot at detailed length is an
effective way of illustrating the extent to
which this is so. And thirdly, paying
painstaking attention to matters of plot—
action, reaction, resolution; situation, com-
plication, explication—feels like a fitting
manner in which to approach a work that
takes the psychological and cultural impor-
tance of storytelling as one of its central
themes. Indeed, Eleanor’s schoolteacher
renders this subtext explicit by delivering a
lesson during which he argues that “stories”
are the means by which human beings
“come to understand ourselves and…come
to understand the world.”

Byzantium strains visibly to illustrate the
truth of this fictional academic’s axiom. It
does so not least by trying to turn a flagrant-
ly fantastical narrative setup (as long ago as
1997, Jordan was happily writing off “most
vampire movies” as “jokes actually…a bit
camp”) to socially and psychologically
forensic observational ends. It’s certainly the
case that Clara and Eleanor cut a com-
pellingly complex central pairing, at once
both predator and prey. While the women
undoubtedly have blood on their hands—

Clara (Gemma Arterton) finds a safe hiding place for herself and her daughter at a run-down
hotel in an English seaside resort in Neil Jordan’s Byzantium (photo by Christopher Raphael).


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Wadjda, Presskit

A film by Haifaa Al Mansour

WADJDA is a 10-year-old girl living in a suburb of Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. Although she lives in a
conservative world, Wadjda is fun loving, entrepreneurial and always pushing the boundaries of what she can
get away with. After a fight with her friend Abdullah, a neighborhood boy she shouldn’t be playing with, Wadjda
sees a beautiful green bicycle for sale. She wants the bicycle desperately so that she can beat Abdullah in a
race. But Wadjda’s mother won’t allow it, fearing repercussions from a society that sees bicycles as dangerous
to a girl’s virtue. So Wadjda decides to try and raise the money herself.
At first, Wadjda’s mother is too preoccupied with convincing her husband not to take a second wife to realize
what’s going on. And soon enough Wadjda’s plans are thwarted when she is caught running various schemes
at school. Just as she is losing hope of raising enough money, she hears of a cash prize for a Koran recitation
competition at her school. She devotes herself to the memorization and recitation of Koranic verses, and her
teachers begin to see Wadjda as a model pious girl. The competition isn‘t going to be easy, especially for a
troublemaker like Wadjda, but she refuses to give in. She is determined to continue fighting for her dreams…

Haifaa Al Mansour is the first female filmmaker in Saudi Arabia and is regarded as one of the most significant
cinematic figures in the Kingdom. She finished her bachelor’s degree in Literature at the American University
in Cairo and completed a Master’s degree in Directing and Film Studies from the University of Sydney.
The success of her three short films, as well as the international acclaim of her award-winning 2005
documentary Women Without Shadows, influenced a whole new wave of Saudi filmmakers and made
the issue of opening cinemas in the Kingdom a front-page discussion. Within the Kingdom her work is
both praised and vilified for encouraging discussion on topics generally considered taboo, like tolerance,
the dangers of orthodoxy, and the need for Saudis to take a critical look at their traditional and restrictive
Through both her films and her work in television and print media Al Mansour is famous for penetrating
the wall of silence surrounding the sequestered lives of Saudi women and providing a platform for their
unheard voices.

Haifaa Al Mansour

I’m so proud to have shot the first full-length feature ever filmed entirely inside the Kingdom. I come
from a small town in Saudi Arabia where
there are many girls like Wadjda who have
big dreams, strong characters and so much
potential. These girls can, and will, reshape
and redefine our nation.
It was important for me to work with an all-
Saudi cast, to tell this story with authentic,
local voices. Filming was an amazing cross-
cultural collaboration that brought two
immensely talented crews, from Germany
and Saudi Arabia, into the heart of Riyadh. I
hope the film offers a unique insight into my
own country and speaks of universal themes
of hope and perseverance that people of all
cultures can relate to.

Director’s Statement

Reem Abdullah is the most well known actresses in Saudi
Arabia. Coming from a traditional background, and having
lived her entire life in Saudi Arabia, she is praised as one
of the few Saudi actresses to challenge the strictly private
role of women and go on to become the Kingdom‘s
foremost television star. She started her career on the
hit show „Tash Ma Tash,“ a Saudi comedy series known
for its liberal slant and criticism of the extreme and
intolerant ideologies within the society. She continues
to play leading roles in the most popular series on Saudi
„Wadjda“ is her first feature film.

Born and raised in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, twelve-year-
old Waad Mohammed landed the role of Wadjda as
one of the last girls to audition for the part. As the
first film ever shot in the Kingdom, finding the right
actress to play Wadjda proved especially challenging,
with most families firmly against the idea of allowing
their daughters to appear on camera. Through word
of mouth and carefully planned auditions, Waad was
chosen after over 50 girls read for the leading role.
Having previously acted in local and regional theater
productions, Waad came already sporting Wadjda‘s
signature Chuck Taylor sneakers and defiant, rebellious
attidute. „Wadja“ is also her first feature film.

Razor Film was founded in 2002 by Gerhard Meixner and Roman Paul and produces national and international
feature films from arthouse to crossover, focusing on new talent and high quality. Up to now RAZOR’s
productions won two Golden Globes, were nominated twice for an Academy Award and premiered and were
awarded at major festivals worldwide.

Razor Film‘s productions include Hany Abu Assad‘s „Paradise Now“, Ari Folman‘s „Waltz with Bashir“, Benedek
Fliegauf‘s „Womb“ and Miranda July‘s „The Future“, among others. The company also co-produced Atiq Rahimi‘s
„The Patience Stone“ that will premiere at TIFF 2012.

Razor Film

Reem Abdullah

Waad Mohammed

Mother Reem Abdullah
Wadjda Waad Mohammed
Abdullah Abdullrahman Al Gohani
Hussa Ahd
Father Sultan Al Assaf

Director Haifaa Al Mansour
Screenplay Haifaa Al Mansour
Director of Photography Lutz Reitemeier
Editor Andreas Wodraschke
Production Designer Thomas Molt
Costume Designer Peter Pohl
Composer Max Richter
Sound Designer Sebastian Schmidt
Re-Recording Mixer Olaf Mehl
Recording Mixer Marc Meusinger
Producers Razor Film
Roman Paul, Gerhard Meixner
Co-producers High Look Group
Amr Alkahtani
Rotana Studios
Norddeutscher Rundfunk
Bayerischer Rundfunk
World Sales The Match Factory
Northamerican Sales United Talent Agency
Middle Eastern Sales Rotana Studios

Saudi Arabia/Germany, 2012, 97 min, Digital, Dolby Digital, Arabic



production manager OLE NICOLAISEN production designer THOMAS MOLT costume designer PETER POHL makeup artist OLIVER ZIEM-SCHWERDT recording mixer MARC MEUSINGER
sound designer SEBASTIAN SCHMIDT re-recording mixer OLAF MEHL composer MAX RICHTER editor ANDREAS WODRASCHKE director of photography LUTZ REITEMEIER

produced by ROMAN PAUL, GERHARD MEIXNER written and directed by HAIFAA AL MANSOUR

You chose to approach a complex theme like the situation of women in Saudi Arabia through the
seemingly simple story of a girl who wants a bike. Why?

I wanted to give the intellectual debate a human face – a story that people can relate to and understand. The film
does not present a big story but a small one, a story about the emotions of a few main characters, a young girl
and her mother, the lives of these characters within their society. I don‘t think people want to sit through a film
and be lectured to as much as go on a journey that is inspiring and touching. As simple as the story may seem, I
think that more complex themes are woven into it. It was important to me that the story was an accurate portrayal
of the situation of women in Saudi Arabia, and that the characters were believable as ordinary people who have
to manoeuver through the system the only way they know how.

There are several strong female characters – Wadjda herself, her mother, the school principal… Is WADJDA
a women‘s film?

Maybe it is a women‘s film! But I really didn‘t intend it that way. I wanted to make a film about things I know and
experienced. A story that spoke to my experiences, but also to average Saudis. It was important for me that the
male characters in the film were not portrayed just as simple stereotypes or villains. Both the men and the women
in the film are in the same boat, both pressured by the system to act and behave in certain ways, and then forced
to deal with the system’s consequences for whatever action they take. I do really like the scenes of the mother
and the daughter together, and I think that a lot of love and emotion comes through in their relationship, when
they are cooking or singing together, there is something very beautiful about it.

Is the character of Wadjda inspired by your own childhood, are there any autobiographical elements to
this story?

Well, I come from a very supportive and liberal family. I remember when I was a kid my father took me along with
my brothers to get bicycles and I chose a green one. I am extremely lucky to have a father who wanted me to feel
dignified as a woman, but it was definitely a different story for my classmates and friends who would have never
even dreamed of asking for a bicycle. But I think the heart of the story is something anyone can relate to, which
is the idea of being labeled different or deviant for wanting something outside of what is traditionally considered
acceptable. The Saudi culture can be especially brutal and unforgiving to people who fall out of step with the
society, so there is a real fear of being labeled an outcast. So in some ways, the story is part of my life and the
things I encountered in my life. A lot of my experiences, along with those of my friends and family, are reflected
in the film in some way – they didn’t just come from a concept in my mind.

In Conversation with

Al Mansour

Growing up in a country with no movie theaters, how did you discover cinema and decide to pursue it as
a mode of expression and a career path?

I grew up in a small town in Saudi Arabia. I don’t want to make it sound like we were totally isolated from the
outside world, but we weren’t exactly jet-setting around either. Although my parents were well traveled, we only
took a few regional trips while I was growing up. All of my young life was centered around our town. The concept
of the big world ended at the cities a few hours away. The world beyond that seemed very far away and out
of reach. I always read books and watched films and wanted to be a part of the bigger world somehow. Saudi
Arabia is a country without movie theaters and bans cinema, but my father made film accessible to us and we
had family nights where we would all watch films together. I loved films so much, but I never thought I would be
a filmmaker, let alone the first female filmmaker in Saudi Arabia.

How did you cast your actors?

In a place as conservative as Saudi Arabia it is hard to find women and young girls who are willing to appear on
camera and in public. That obstacle was only compounded by the fact that we don‘t have a local film industry
or infrastructure to support the process. Open casting calls for example do not exist, so it took a while to figure
out how to go about it. Waad came to one of the sessions we set up in Riyadh and I could see that she already
had the look and attitude for the part. All the girls that we had seen before her did not have the spirit that was
needed; they were either too sweet or not cheeky enough. And suddenly Waad appeared, with her headphones
on her head, wearing jeans and with tattoos on her hands. I was also looking for a girl that has a nice voice to
be able to sing with her mother, memorize and chant the Koran, so a good voice was a necessary requirement,
and Waad has a very beautiful and sweet voice. I had seen a lot of Reem Abdulla‘s work in television so I always
thought she would be a good fit for the mother‘s role. She did a great job of adjusting from TV to film acting, and
I think she turned in a powerful performance.

What was it like for you as woman to direct a movie in Riyadh?

Challenging and extremely rewarding at the same time. Every step was difficult and it was quite an adventure.
I occasionally had to run and hide in the production van in some of the more conservative areas where people
would have disapproved of a woman director mixing professionally with all the men on set. Sometimes I tried to
direct via walkie-talkie from the van, but I always got frustrated and came out to do it in person. We had a few
instances of people voicing their displeasure with what we were doing, but nothing too disruptive. We had all of
the proper permits and permissions so overall it went relatively smoothly.

How are you perceived in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world? Are you considered an exception? A pariah?
A pioneer?

I guess I can sometimes be viewed as a polarizing figure, as some people think the idea of a woman making films
or working is media is controversial. But it is definitely not my intention to offend anyone. I don’t believe in stirring
up trouble for its own sake, I just think we should be working to figure out how to incorporate inevitable change
and modernization into our culture in a reasonable way. Of course death threats and the like can be scary, but we
can’t let extremists affect the work we do and the goals we have to develop our country.
I hope I have made a film that is close to the lives of Saudi women and inspires and strengthens them to
challenge the very complicated social and political encumbrances they are surrounded by. Although it is hard to
deconstruct the deeply rooted traditions that deny women a dignified existence, especially since they are mixed
with narrow interpretations of religion, it is a purpose that is worth striving for.

What is the current situation for Saudi women who have creative or artistic aspirations?

I am so impressed with all of the young women I meet in Saudi Arabia now and know that they are growing up
in a different era than I did, with so many more opportunities. I want to help provide a platform for their unheard
voices and help them tell their stories to the world. It is so hard for women to be themselves. If they act outside
of accepted norms they are considered “controversial” anywhere in the world, let alone in a conservative and a
very socially strict place like Saudi Arabia. Women are always expected to be a certain way and whenever they
break away from that, they are usually labeled and stigmatized. I hope my films will help some of them find the
courage to take risks and talk about the issues that are important to them.


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