We are western. We are liberal. We are right; we think.
The thing about film and film understanding is that we can only understand it through our own value system, for the most part. It is truly special when a film allows us to understand it’s story through it’s own value system as opposed to our own, especially when their values are widely different from our own.
Wadjda, as a character and a film, resides in Saudi Arabia. According to Wikipedia, where I get all my knowledge,
Islam is the state religion of Saudi Arabia and its law requires that all citizens be Muslims.
So Wadjda, as a film written and directed by Haifaa al-Mansour, becomes the first film to ever be made entirely in Saudi Arabia that was made by a female. The film follows Wadjda (Waad Mohammed), an 11-year old girl, who wants nothing more than to buy herself a bicycle and listen to her western pop music while racing her friend Abdullah (Abdullrahman Algohani) in the streets.
These are desires that as a westerner who grew up with friends on his street and ran in the mud can understand and wish only the easiest of succession for Wadjda in having them come true. Somehow however, she manages to live in a society which tells her that riding a bicycle will break her virginity, that she must cover her face on her way to school and stop listening to that pop music. She is given liberties at home that you can imagine are uncommon in this world.
Wadjda’s mother, played by Reem Abdullah, is at a loss of how to control her child such that she functions within society while at the same time wanting to make her happy. She also has trouble doing the same for herself as she’s trying to keep her husband to herself who’s been courting potential second wives. Wadjda’s mother loves her husband, Wadjda’s father loves Wadjda, or so it seems. We watch as he makes himself more and more distant, leaving messages with Wadjda for her mother about his absence and playing games instead of being with his family. He demands a son in order to not take another wife.
Wadjda is a film that I like to categorize as something unique. It compels its audience to feel for the society of these people. The thing about it though is that I doubt it was that hard a task. I wonder what the film’s reaction was in it’s homeland? Enter here all religious jokes based on how the film already treats women in the society. I wonder what effect this film draws from the population of Saudi Arabia other than, “yup that’s right”. I wonder even more how much power I should allow myself in judging this society.
As I said in my short line at the top, we always like to think we’re right and the rest of the world is wrong. We’re taught this in our western worlds that even if something is done one way doesn’t make it “the right way”. What if it is the right way? What if I am the wrong way? Logic states this is possible at all times. So as I sat there watching Wadjda being forced into giving in her dreams up at every turn I wondered if it is any different from someone who has that illusion of being able to make a dream true but never having as clear a ceiling as is shown to the women of this world.
Recently I was listening to someone talking the merits of “The American Way” vs. Jamaica. About the idea of hope and how America uses that to fuel productivity vs. Jamaica where there is very little hope most times in creating success. In Jamaica people have the idea that success is an impossible dream and the best you can hope for is the reach high in stature of a pre-existing company or firm, or the more likely is the just survive and live. I’ve always seen the idea of seeing success as a viable end point in life as the “right” way of thinking, even as someone who lives in Jamaica in a non-success framework.So I remain that audience that judges Wadjda’s social setup and I feel rightly so as I believe the filmmaker intended that judgement. Otherwise we would’ve simply watched the same story from a male character’s point of view with the same goals and watch them be accomplished in short order. We would’ve been given hope as our end goal of the film as opposed to constantly fighting the society that exists and sighing at every moment of Wadjda being given a hard time to attain such a small piece of happiness.
What do you think of Wadjda?