|Wadjda's Director, Haifaa Al-Mansour|
Women driving in Saudi Arabia is now just a matter of time, says Haifaa Al-Mansour, the first ever Saudi female film director.
Haifaa Al-Mansour, 39, told the Big Issue: “Five years ago everyone [in Saudi Arabia] was opposed to women driving and now it’s a hot topic. It will happen. It’s just a natural progression of how the society is modernising.”
Driving is forbidden for women in Saudi Arabia, but in recent weeks the issue has jumped to the top of the political agenda after cleric Sheik Salah al-Luhaydan’s astonishing public claim that women drivers risk damaging their ovaries.
Last Sunday dozens of Saudi women took to their cars and uploaded YouTube videos of their protest driving online, in the biggest demonstration against the ban to date. A petition to overturn the rule already bears more than 17,000 signatures.
Although Al-Mansour supports the campaign, she warns the direct action approach may rile the conservatives in power.
“Saudi is a country which doesn’t like noise, and if the approach is too aggressive, the conservatives become closed and defend their values really strongly,” she says. “The majority of Saudi is conservative so you don’t want to place them in that position, but take them with you on that journey.”
Wadjda, Al-Mansour’s Oscar nominated film about an entrepreneurial Saudi girl who dreams of riding a bicycle despite a societal ban (see trailer below), shone a global spotlight on the country’s ultra conservative laws. Shortly after its release, the Saudi government released an edict stating that women were now permitted to ride bicycles for leisure.
But Al-Mansour is keen to be seen as an artist rather than a social activist. “I wasn’t thinking that I would make a film and then the bicycle ban would be lifted!” she says. “But I was thinking about empowering girls, about equality for women, freedom of mobility and a better life for girls.”
She continues: “With Wadjda, I knew that a film coming out from Saudi, and being filmed by a woman in Saudi, would create a lot of buzz. But in the midst of all that, it’s important not to forget that you need to make something that people enjoy.
"I am a film-maker, film is my microphone and that is how I want to contribute to change.”
A screening of Wadjda will take place at the upcoming One World Media Festival at University College London. Festival director Mick Csaky said: “I was immensely attracted to showing Wadjda at the One World Media film festival. I am a huge believer in the power of all media to effect change, and I think that Wadjda in a subtle, human way has the extraordinary capacity to do so.”
One World Media Festival takes place on November 8 & 9