Overview of the film
The film is a Saudi Arabian drama film that was released in 2012 and was written and directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour. Being the first feature film to be produced by a female actor in Saudi Arabia, it attracted a lot of attention in the industry and it marked a new era in the film industry in the region. It also got nominated for the best foreign language film in the country. The film is based on the story of a 10 years old girl called Wadjda who lived in the capital city, Riyadh. She had a dream of owning a bicycle that she used to see each day as she passed by the store on her way home from school. Her friend from the neighborhood, Abdullah, owned a bicycle and Wadjda wanted to race against him. However, her mother refused to buy her one because riding bicycles for the ladies was a taboo. Her mother told her that she will not have children if she rides bicycles. She decided to make money to buy the bicycle on her own. She started selling mixtapes and bracelets which she sells to her classmates (Al-Mansour). She gets into trouble when her teacher noticed her activities.
At the time, her mother was having challenges in her job and her driver was getting angry many times for waiting for her. Wadjda and Abdullah threaten the driver and force him to treat Wadjda's mother well lest they have him kicked out of the country. Wadjda's father plans to marry a second wife and her mother is worried. She plans to buy a new red dress to scare away other women during her brother-in-law's wedding. T some point, the film shows Wadjda admiring a bicycle and the seller tells her that it was too expensive for her and it would cost her SR800. She decided to participate in a Quran competition in school which would earn her SR1000. Her aim was to buy the bicycle but when she won and announced her intentions, her money was donated to Palestine on her behalf. At this point, it is clear how a lady is treated in this society. Her father marries a second wife and as they watch the wedding with her mother from the roof, her mother reveals her intention to cut her hair short, which her husband had objected for long. She also reveals she had bought Wadjda a new bicycle and Wadjda wins against Abdulla in a cycling competition. Her mother gets angry from time to time when Wadjda falls when learning to ride the bicycle.
Orientalism and its impacts on the figure of the Muslim
Orientalism is the name used by the art historian and scholars in cultural studies to refer to the imitation and depiction of the aspects in the Middle East and Southern Asia (Macfie n.p). For many years, Islam has been misunderstood in the world and mostly by the people from the West. Almost all non-Muslim writings have been distorted by orientalism and they pass the wrong message and create the wrong image about the Muslims. After the events of September 11, 2001, when the United States was attacked by terrorists, the Middle East has been associated with terrorism, and especially the Muslims. The world has been made to believe that Muslims from the Middle East are hostile, dangerous and ready to kill innocent people (Khatib 2). Films like Wadjda stand at the center and form an effective tool for changing this notion. The people from the western countries are misinformed by the messages they see in videos, films and motion pictures and generally in the media (Bhat 28). Such myths and misconceptions have affected the image that people associate with the Muslims.
The images created by the media are related to the conventional images and the Wadjda film reflects some of them. Historically, the image created by Muslims is not any different. Before the September 11 attack n US, there was the film called The Battle of Algiers which reflected the occurrences in Algeria when they fought to get independence from France. The film was released in 1966 and was directed by Gillo Pontecorvo. The Muslims and the Pied-Noir started having violent exchanges in the capital city and this led to the intervention of the French army. The image created in this film also shows how the Muslims are seen as violent and unfriendly. After the bomb attack at Casbah, it is presumed that the culprits are all Muslims (O'Leary 18). The ideas represented in these films show the general orientalism that has been preached by different platforms and dates back to many years in history. Apart from having a negative image about Muslims, Orientalism is also seen in the way gender issues are handled. Wadjda is not allowed to ride a bicycle because she is a girl and her mother is not allowed to keep short hair by her husband.
Evidence of orientalism and its historical context
The two films discussed above show how the world views Muslims. The Wadjda film shows how a woman in the Middle East struggles to get the freedom to do what they want and the film "The Battle of Algiers" shows how the French troops had pre-determined expectations that Muslims are violent and were the cause of the war in Casbah. The other evidence is seen in the films and how the society has changed over years. Some researchers have based their views on the way nationalism; gender and religion have become the center of fighting terrorism (Hoja-Moolji 350). The film "Wadjda" opposes some of the views presented in "The Battle of Algiers" by showing how women and Muslims are going against the general beliefs to seek happiness and freedom. The two films show that Orientalism has affected many people and denied them happiness that they deserve. Wadjda and her mother stood against it and sought happiness against the expectations of the society.
The films "Wadjda" and "The Battle of Algiers" are similar in that they show the general views that people have about Muslims, women, and terrorism. The cases in Algeria and the Middle East are not different from what has been happening in the rest of the world where women are oppressed socially and seen as the inferior gender. Muslims are also taken to be terrorists by default and the attack on the US in 2011 escalated this image about Muslims. Orientalism is biased and has affected the society for many years in history. The films show the cases where orientalism has been effective and defeated. Feminism in terrorism and politics affects the ability of women to achieve their goals in life.
Al-Mansour, Haifaa. Wadjda. Youtube, Commentary by Gerhard Meixner, Razor Film Produktion, 2012, youtube.com/watch?v=xT_KxX2fAqU
Bhat, Shabeer Ahmad. "Muslims: A socially excluded community and role of international media." International Journal 3.8 (2015): 28-33.
hoja-Moolji, Shenila. "Becoming an "intimate public": Exploring the affective intensities of hashtag feminism." Feminist Media Studies 15.2 (2015): 347-350.
Khatib, Lina. Filming the modern Middle East: Politics in the cinemas of Hollywood and the Arab world. Vol. 57. IB Tauris, 2006.
Macfie, Alexander Lyon. Orientalism. Routledge, 2014.
O'Leary, Alan. "The Battle of Algiers at Fifty: End of Empire Cinema and the First Banlieue Film." FILM QUART 70.2 (2016): 17-29.
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