Wadjda(Haifaa al-Mansour, 2012), is a coming of age story about a 10-year-old girlliving in the suburb of Riyadh. The story of Wadjda expresses how people livetheir lives in Saudi Arabia through the experiences of a 10-year-old girl and howwomen have to cope with the patriarchal restrictive society of Saudi Arabia. Inthis essay, I will be discussing how the social norms of Saudi Arabian societyare subverted through the theme of rebellion. The theme of rebellion isdemonstrated throughout the film in different areas by the use ofcinematography, dialogue and clothing.
The opening scene is a veryimportant scene in the film as it is where we establish her rebelliouscharacter in contrast between her and the obedient girls in her class. In thescene, we are instantly drawn to Wadjda’s canvas shoes in contrast to the othergirl’s black shoes which are used to portray a depiction of Wadjda’s individualityand aspects of her personality to the audience advocating that she is rebelliousto the social norms of society and not following basic rules. The opening sceneis important as it introduces her character and her personality to theaudience, in order to a general understanding for the audience when they seeher perform more acts of rebellious behaviour against the social norms ofsociety throughout the film. The types ofgirls at Wadjda’s school differ to her massively.
In the film, we establishthat she has a selective group of friends that like to hang out behind theschool and do rebellious actions such as paint their toenails. A few of thegirls at Wajda’s school act rebellious differently to Wadjda, these girls rebelminimally simply trying to make their way through a society and the paradoxesof Saudi Arabian society are displayed through their rebellious attributes.The role of women in Saudi ArabianSociety is considered to be quite controversial. In Saudi Arabian Culture,women are taught to participate in roles that affect the life inside of thehousehold such as cooking, cleaning and tidying the house and taking care ofthe children and some decisions regarding the children’s upbringing. The roleof women is basic to maintaining the structure of the family which is due tothe fact that women are controlled more by men, keeping their chastity andtherefore their family honour in check which makes the family’s bonds andsociety stronger. RebellionWadjda decorates herpersonality and individuality with her clothing, style of music and her independence.She rebels against the social norms of Saudi Arabian society to show people howdifferent people embrace different concepts of Islam. Hersmall gestures of spirited individuality contrasted in a world that seemsorganized to suppress any such expression.
In the film, we establish that theplot of the story suggests that people, children, in particular, should havesome means to express themselves, especially when they have hard worked toachieve their goals. Wadjda’stomboyish behaviour goes against what is viewed as “right” in theSociety of Saudi Arabia. The actions she does may be viewed by the westernaudience as normal actions, however, these specific rebellious acts that shedoes reflect on the issues that the women face in the society. Simple traitssuch as listening to westernpop music, hanging out with Abdullah are all examples of things that womenshouldn’t do in this society and are considered to be frowned upon. Wadjda isdetermined to have her own bicycle which symbolises freedom. A woman riding a bike is widely frowned onand strongly discouraged in Saudi Arabian society. However, the reason she isso determined to buy this bicycle is that she is astute enough to realise thatshe may be able to get away with it if she’s financially independent.
RelationshipsThroughout the film, we begin to see thatWadjda’s mother’s personality unfolds and we establish that she is a relativelyliberal woman, relaxed enough to sing at home, on the other hand, she isconservative enough to disapprove of the mixed tapes that Wadjda creates. We asthe audience begin to understand more about Wadjda’s behaviour when we see lifeat home. Wadjda has a relatively close relationship with her mother. Her fatheron the hand seems very laid back and is not like a stereotypical Saudi Arabianfather who is strict on their wives and children. In the scene where Wadjda’sdad comes home from work we establish him sitting in the living room playing avideo game, in this scene Wadjda tells her father that she wants a bike, as theaudience we expect a Stereotypical father would be angry and give her a lectureabout how it is wrong and tell her how a woman “should act. But he doesn’teven respond or seems as though he even acknowledged what she had said.
InSaudi Arabian Society, the structure of the families is traditionallypatriarchal, with the male being the head of the household and in charge ofduties that are usually found outside of the household such as protecting andproviding for his family. Stereotypically, we as the audience expected Wadjda’s father to react ina certain way but doesn’t. From this, we establish that Wadjda has takencertain traits from her father such as being laid back and doing the oppositeof what is expected in social norms of Saudi Arabian society. What is expectedof Wadjda is not how she responds to certain situations.
So, given the factthat her father didn’t really have much to say given the situation with thebicycle, her other behaviour such as her choice of clothing, and perhaps theloud music wouldn’t have bothered him, and for this reason we could say thatperhaps because there was no “man of the house” to tell her off andbe the “man of the house”, which is why she acts so rebellious in thefirst place. Throughout the film we witness Wadjda get into trouble fornumerous things, however not once does she get told off by her father whichsuggests that he is the least of her worries. In typical Saudi Arabian society,if the children particularly the child does something wrong, their father wouldbe the one to set them straight.According to Ceuterick “‘When the fatheror other male relatives are not present, Wadjda can sing with her mother, playsubversively with her abaya and the two women can find a hiding spot on theroof. When the father is present the spatiality of the house changes. The housethen appears as a divided space that determines gender roles, responsibilitiesand labour” (Ceuterick 189) Anotheraspect which affects Wadjda is the fact that only the men of the family appearon the family tree. Later on, in the film, we see Wadjda add herself to it onlyto find that she had been taken off. At the edge of adolescence, Wadjdadiscovers many severe limitations placed on herself and the women in society inthe name of culture, Islam and family honour.
However, all of these situations that Wadjda finds herself in is whatpushes her and determines her to want the bike even more. As mentioned before,the bike is a symbol of freedom in the film and by her being able to buy thebike and riding it gives her freedom and a sense of liberation. Us as the audience could say that Wadjda gets away with her behaviourbecause she doesn’t know better, the fact that the man of the house being herfather is not strict there for lets her get away with a lot. On the other hand,the truth is, she does know better and is fully aware of the waythings are the way they are. In the film, everyone around Wadjda thinks that she is just a child anddoesn’t know any better, however as the film goes on you begin to establish thereactions of the elder, people such as her teachers, parents and familyfriends, towards her.
We discover later and later in the film that Wadjda’srebellious trait symbolises her wisdom and intelligence towards the situation.Her personality sets an example for all women in Saudi Arabian society that ifyou want something you can get it if you are determined. It also symbolisesthat by you going for what you want for something such as a bike doesn’t makeyou any less of a Muslim. This is portrayed when Wadjda learns the Quran andstrives to be the best in order to win the competition to get the bike. Sheachieved both goals of her religious side as well as striving for what shewants and what she believes in. Conclusion.Thediscussion on how the social norms of Saudi Arabian society are subvertedthrough the theme of rebellion and represented throughout the film in differentways with many messages behind each scene. Each scene was well thought out andthere are meanings to each part.
Despite theabsurdities that women face every day we can relate to the characters and thethemes in this film. Haifaa al-Mansour told the story about Saudi Arabiansociety without being bias or obvious political agenda. Haifaa al-Mansourchanged the ending of the film and originally the mother was going to die,instead, she changed it to her buying Wadjda the bicycle instead. This changedthe whole meaning of the film as the two endings are the complete polaropposite. If the ending of the film had led to the mother dying, in a way itthrows the whole message of the film out the window because then Wadjda wouldnot have got her bike which we explained symbolises freedom and she would havethen lost her mother and have to live with her father’s new family.
On theother hand, by changing the ending to Wadjda’s mother buying her the bike thisthen shows that her mother accepted and agreed with Wadjda after her husbandhad left her for another woman, and the fact that it ended with them symbolisedempowering women and the fact that she got her bike in the end also symbolisedfreedom and liberation. The two endings change the meaning very drastically andso the ending that Haifa changed it to fitted the story and the moral also.