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10-year-old 'Wajda' admires bicycle in scene from Haifaa Al Mansour's award-winning film.
10-year-old 'Wajda' admires bicycle in scene from Haifaa Al Mansour's award-winning film.

Life Imitating Art in Saudi Arabia?

Could it have been a 10-year-old girl in the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia that helped open the door to women riding bicycles in the ultraconservative Arab nation?

They still have to wear their abaya. They can't ride on public streets, and they must be accompanied by a male relation or guardian, but the women in Saudi Arabia are now allowed to ride bicycles, according to an Associated Press report, citing Al-Yawm, a daily paper in the ultraconservative Arab nation.

…an unnamed official from the powerful religious police as saying women can ride bikes in parks and recreational areas but they have to be accompanied by a male relative and dressed in the full Islamic head-to-toe abaya.

Saudi Arabia follows an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam and bans women from driving. Women are also banned from riding motorcycles or bicycles in public places. The newspaper didn’t say what triggered the lifting of the ban.

I'd like to hazard a guess that it was a little Saudi girl named Wajda in Haifaa Al Mansour's award-winning film of the same name, that was shown this past March at the 17th Human Rights Watch Film Festival in London. The film also won Best Film in the Muhr Arab Feature category at the Dubai International Film in 2012. 10-year-old Waad Mohammed, the film's lead character, also took home the Best Actress award in the same category. She is pictured above admiring the bicycle from a scene in the film.

Saudi-born director Al Mansour says the film about a girl growing up in a small town in Saudi Arabia is partly autobiographical. It tells the story of a not-atypical young girl and her struggle to be accepted as an equal through her determination to own a bicycle just like the boys in her community.

The film also debuted at the Venice Film Festival where it won critical acclaim. All this attention on a impishly charming and determined young Saudi girl may have compelled the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, otherwise known as the 'religious police,' to reconsider their total ban. Of course, how you are going to safely ride a bicycle in a full-length abaya, wasn't addressed and perhaps that is the point.

Regardless, it's still a promising forward step for Saudi women.

Film Clip

Posted By: Bill Moore [04-Apr-2013]