Alternative cinema for big kids: Wadjda

Meet Wadjda. 

She's a spunky, smart, enterprising 10-year-old Saudi Arabian girl living in Riyadh who has her eye on a green bicycle at the shop. 


Much to her dismay, she can't convince her mother or father to purchase it; bicycles are considered unseemly, a bit scandalous, and even damaging for a girl ("you won't be able to have children if you ride a bike!" she's told). So she decides to take fate into her own hands and enter the Koran recitation contest at school that offers a cash prize with enough to get the bike.

Wadjda delighted me. If you haven't seen it yet, you are in for a treat. The Guardian called it "a rebel yell with a spoonful of sugar" and that's about right. It has a sweetness to it while gently pushing the envelope for opportunities for girls in Saudi Arabia. And I was fascinated by the window into daily life in Riyadh. Wadjda deftly navigated the themes of cultural beliefs & practices, family relationships, faith, and social change, reflecting some of the nuance and complexity of these issues rather than going for a heavy-handed approach.

It's also a movie of firsts: the first feature film made in Saudi Arabia and the first film ever made by a Saudi female filmmaker. In fact, since it is illegal there for men and women to work in public together, director Haifaa al Mansour had to communicate with the crew through phones and radio from inside a van.  (For more about Haifaa al Mansour's experience directing the movie and her approach to gradual change within Saudi Arabia, listen to this interview with the Guardian and this one with NPR.)

Wadjda (rated PG)  is available on iTunes and Netflix. 

  • I loved it. Highly recommended and one of my favorite recent film finds.
  • Recommended for: ages 10 and up, especially those who are curious about other cultures and about children around the world--and those who don't mind reading captions to keep up with the story.
  • You should know: You may have to explain a bit about Muslim culture and, specifically, why Wadjda's father is considering marrying another woman. There's also some very mild innuendo that will go right over most kids' heads. (As always, if you have any reservations or questions, see it first before showing your kids.)