|Haifaa Al Mansour |
The Saudi state strives to promote the movie as a story about the society's lifestyle, regardless of the state crucial role in constructing the patriarchal system. Al Manosur might be an excellent example of The Reinter state production, where people are “subjects” not full citizens due to the absence of taxation. Hence, individuals become grateful for the royal family instead of being demanding citizens. Therefore, it was not surprising to me to see a scene where the Saudi royal family was inserted into the narrative. Once Wadjda rides her bicycle, we see a bus with a large sticker that shows images of senior state figures.
First Published at the Daily Danish Newspaper, Information.
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One should discuss Al Mansour’s claim that her movies only tackle social themes; hence they should not be given a political dimension. The current system of the Kingdom was a result of a theocratic marriage between the political elite and the religious institute. The first accepted that the conservative Islamic branch, Wahhabism, became the dominant religious power in society, in exchange for the latter’s support for the royal family’s claim for political power. Al Mansour movies tackles women’s situation in her country. Hence, to call the oppression of women in Saudi Arabia a “social problem” is a total disregard for this historical division of power and that women have been the central to both the religious and political projects. On the contrary, the royal family has actively supported the Wahhabi conservative movement, since its socially oppressive version of Islam fitted extremely well with a political regime that too relied on political oppression in order to stay in power. Disregarding these historical facts, throws Al Mansour at the side of the state’s official narrative, which claims that what happening in the country, is due to people will not the elite will. Thus, the movie is against the society not the state.
I met Al Mansour personally in 2010 and interviewed her twice. Most importantly, I followed the controversy that her movies caused within the Saudi society. Despite the absence of actual theatres, Saudis watch movies on TV, DVD and through the internet. The views from her country about her work ranged from alarm and indignant rejection to sincere empathy.
Al Mansour's plan to direct her first feature film was disclosed in an interview in 2010, and was scheduled to be released in 2011. However, they had to postpone the project as she faced difficulties in convincing producers to shoot the film in her homeland. After years of struggle, Wadjda and her green bicycle transcend continental boundaries in 2013. What makes this movie unique is that it was filmed in Riyadh “the capital of Saudi Arabia” and the birth place of the conservatives. Nevertheless, there are a number of questions spinning in my head. How come a movie which tackles taboo issue as Women’s status quo, could be supported by the same oppressors?” The Saudi government has allowed the director to film inside the country, a wealthy prince has partially funded the film, and at last her film has been selected as the Saudi state official submission for the Oscar’s foreign-language category 2014.
Paradoxically, the oppressors who constructed the segregation system is maintaining to oppress half of their population on one hand and celebrating the movie internationally on the other. Al Mansour expressed several times that she didn't want to rebel or harm her own people’s feelings. However, her fellow citizen, professor of anthropology and religion Madawi Al Rasheed, in her book A Most Masculine State, considers Al Mansour and other Saudi women as “part of the state-sponsored feminism, in order to fight political dissent and appease the west”.
The Saudi state strives to promote the movie as a story about the society's lifestyle, regardless of the state crucial role in constructing the patriarchal system. Al Manosur might be an excellent example of The Rentier state's production, where people are “subjects” not full citizens due to the absence of taxation. Hence, individuals become grateful for the royal family instead of being demanding citizens.
Therefore, it was not surprising to me to see a scene where the Saudi royal family was inserted into the narrative. Once Wadjda rides her bicycle, we see a bus with a large sticker that shows images of senior state figures.
The Green Bicycle is a close-up of an isolated state. It offers a visual insight of the life in Saudi Arabia. I encourage everyone to see it with critical eyes. In the public debate, especially in the west, Saudi women and Arab women in general have been trapped within the duality of being survivors,-need to be saved- or victims. Therefore, it is important that the story of Wadjda will not be caught up by misconceptions and just plain ignorance. Therefore, let us keep a professional distance from Al Mansour’s work and not get overwhelmed with the title of “Exceptional first female director from oppressive Saudi Arabia”. If we forced Al Mansour into this presumed image and duality, we also “in the west” would be projecting another form of negative discrimination against Saudi women.