Haifaa Al Mansour’s drama Wadjda, about a young girl determined to win money to buy a bicycle she’s forbidden to ride, has been selected as Saudi Arabia’s official submission for the Oscar’s foreign-language category. It marks the first time the country has submitted a film for Academy Award consideration.
Waad Mohammad stars as the film’s title character, a spunky 10-year-old who sets out to win a Quran recitation competition so she can purchase a bike to race a neighbourhood pal — this despite the fact that the law forbids women from riding bicycles (after the film was made, the restriction was repealed).
“We are very proud of the film as an authentic representation of our country and culture and are very pleased to see the themes and story of the film resonate with audiences well beyond our borders,” Sultan Al Bazie, head of Saudi Arabian Society for Culture and Arts and chairman of the nominating committee, said in a statement on Friday.
Wadjda, which opens in Los Angeles this weekend and is being distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, is believed to be the first film shot entirely in the kingdom. The film won the Best Arab Feature prize and a Best Actress for its protagonist, Waad, at the Dubai International Film Festival last year. The movie also is the first narrative feature from Mansour, a 39-year-old mother who grew up in a small Saudi town and shot the film covertly on the streets of the capital, Riyadh.
Mansour said earlier this year that the film was an attempt to offer a political comment on the daily realities of women’s lives in the country.
“I didn’t want to make a movie about women being raped or stoned,” Mansour said in an interview in Beverly Hills in June. “For me it is the everyday life, how it’s hard. For me, it was hard sometimes to go to work because I cannot find transportation. Things like that build up and break a woman.”