Haifaa Al Monsour has pulled off the impossible in the Oscar race for Best Foreign Film. She created a film (“Wadjda”) that Saudi Arabia submitted to the contest (a first for the Arab country) even though it’s a nation without movie theaters.
Even more extraordinary: the film depicts female rebellion against the culture’s male supremacy enforced by conservative religious doctrine. How’d she do it? Answer: By employing a non-threatening approach.
“Wadjda” tells the tale of a sweet 10-year-old girl who strives for something simple, but forbidden – she wants to buy a bicycle, but doesn’t have the money. Her solution: Try to win the cash in a Koran-recitation contest. It’s a simple story that wins over even conservative hearts.
“Using a child gave me a lot of freedom as a writer,” Haifaa Al Mansour tells Gold Derby in our webcam chat. “They don’t take things for granted. They have this fresh look at things that we, as adults, just accept …. She’s optimistic because she wants something and she didn’t acknowledge the limitations.”
Haifaa Al Monsour didn’t accept limitations when striving to make her film with government approval.
“I worked within the system,” she adds. “We gave them the script and we asked for permission. They have a lot of rules of what to do, what not to do and I tried to abide by them.”
In the end she got the official OK because “Saudi Arabia is changing, it’s opening up,” she says. “There’s room for art.”
“Wadja” is being welcomed with enthusiasm by film critics – it has a 98% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes. “That’s amazing, isn’t it?” she says. “I keep retweeting that. I’m really enjoying the journey and very grateful. It’s amazing that it’s going around the world like this. “