The film Wadjda (Haifaa al-Mansour, 2012), is
a coming of age story about a 10-year-old girl living in the suburb of Riyadh
in Saudi Arabia.

The story expresses how people live their
lives, and how women have to cope with the patriarchal restrictions of Saudi
Arabian society through the experiences of a 10-year-old girl.

In this essay, I will be discussing how the
social norms of Saudi Arabian society are subverted through the theme of
rebellion. The theme of rebellion is demonstrated throughout the film in
different areas by the use of cinematography, dialogue, clothing,
relationships, and character traits. I will be discussing these aspects in
reference to the scenes in the film that I think symbolise the theme of
rebellion with different meanings with referral to the main character “Wadjda”

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The opening scene
of the film is a very
important for the audiences understanding as it is where we establish Wadjda’s rebellious
character in contrast between her and the other obedient girls in her class.

In the scene, we are instantly drawn to
Wadjda’s canvas shoes in contrast to the other girl’s black shoes which are
used to portray a depiction of her individuality and aspects of her personality
to the audience. This advocates that she is rebellious to the social norms of
society and does not follow basic rules.

This scene is important for the understanding
of the audience as it introduces her personality and traits in order for them
to gain a general understanding when they see her perform more acts of rebellious
behaviour against the social norms of society throughout the film.

 

Wadjda’s personality is different to the
other girls at her school. We establish that she is very much a lone wolf and
only really has one friend “Abdullah”. However, there are a selective group of
girls that she sometimes hangs out with whilst she’s at school that rebel, such
as paint their toenails behind the school where they cannot be seen. Although
these are seen as rebellious actions in the film, Wadjda’s tomboyish character is
revealed in the film as we see her in comparison to her girlfriends at school, for
instance whilst the other girls paint their toenails in secret and gossip and
talk about potential marriage, Wadjda, sells mixtapes and other things to her
fellow peers to earn money, creates mixtapes and listens to loud music in her
bedroom. She is Unique and has her own mind and rebels differently to the other
girls at her school. We see the contrast as we establish that the girls in her
school rebel slightly simply to make their way through daily life whereas
Wadjda rebels because she wants to as she has a very independent and headstrong
character. The paradoxes of Saudi Arabian society are displayed through these rebellious
characteristics of the girls and Wadjda.

A women’s role in Saudi Arabian Society is considered to be quite a controversial
topic in western societies. Saudi Arabian women are cultured and educated to perform
household responsibilities such as take care of the children, cook and clean
the house. A male’s
role in Saudi Arabian society is that the male is the head of the household and
is in charge of duties such as providing for his family.

These roles are rudimentary to upholding the structure of the family. Islamic
and cultural teachings teach the woman to keep their chastity, to cover and
vail themselves around non-marital partners or family members in order to keep
family honour and make the family’s bond stronger.

However, there is a scene in which refers to this point, which is where
the girls are outside of the school, and there are male builders nearby, the
girls are told to rush inside before they see them but Wadjda being the
rebellious character that she is decides to stay outside.

 

Wadjda decorates
her personality and individuality with her clothing, style of music and her
independence. She rebels against the social norms of Saudi Arabian society to
show people how different people embrace different concepts of Islam. Her small gestures
of spirited individuality are contrasted in a society that appears controlled
to overpower any such expression. The plot of the story of Wadjda we suggest
that people should be able to express themselves, especially when they have
worked hard to achieve something. In the film, Wadjda’s goal was to earn enough
money to buy her very own bicycle, by winning the school’s Quranic completion. We
establish in the film that as she reveals what she will use the money for, the
teachers disapprove and take her money and contribute it towards a charity.

Wadjda is disheartened by thus as she worked so hard for something and it was
taken away because it wasn’t viewed as something a woman “should” do.

Wadjda’s tomboyish
behaviour goes against what is viewed as “right” in the Society of Saudi
Arabia. The rebellious acts that she does may be viewed by the western audience
as normal, however, these specific rebellious acts reflect on the issues that
the women face in Saudi Arabian Society. Simple traits such as listening to western pop music,
hanging out with Abdullah are examples of things that women shouldn’t do in
this society and are considered to be frowned upon. Wadjda is determined to
have her own bicycle and woman riding
a bike is strongly discouraged in Saudi Arabian society. However, in the film
the bicycle symbolises freedom and liberation, and the reason that Wadjda is determined
to buy the bike is because she discovers that if she is financially independent
may be able to get away with it.

Throughout the film we establish
that Wadjda has a relatively close relationship with her parents but more so
with her mother. We as the audience begin to understand more about Wadjda’s
behaviour when we see life at home.

We see Wadjda’s mother’s personality
unfold and find out that that she is a moderately liberal woman but strict
enough to disapprove of Wadjda’s mixed tapes.  Her father on the hand seems very laid back
unlike a stereotypical Saudi Arabian father, who is strict on their wives and
children.

In the scene where Wadjda tells
her father that she wants a bicycle, we see that he continues to play a video
game, and barely raises an eyebrow. As the audience, we stereotypically expect
a Saudi Arabian father to be angry and give her a lecture about how it is wrong
and tell her how a woman “should” act, but instead he barely seemed as though
he even acknowledged what she had said.

From this, we establish that
Wadjda has taken certain traits from her father such as being laid back and
doing the opposite of what is expected in social norms of Saudi Arabian society.

What is expected of Wadjda is not how she responds to certain situations. So,
given the fact that her father didn’t really have much to say given the
situation with the bicycle, her other behaviour such as her choice of clothing,
and perhaps the loud music wouldn’t have bothered him, and for this reason we
could say that perhaps because there was no “man of the house” to
tell her otherwise which may be the reason why she acts so rebellious in the
first place. In typical Saudi Arabian society, if the children particularly the
child does something wrong, their father would be the one to set them straight.

According to Ceuterick “‘When
the father or other male relatives are not present, Wadjda can sing with her
mother, play subversively with her abaya and the two women can find a hiding
spot on the roof. When the father is present the spatiality of the house
changes. The house then appears as a divided space that determines gender
roles, responsibilities and labour” (Ceuterick 189)

 

Another aspect which affects Wadjda is the
fact that only the men of the family appear on the family tree. Later on, in
the film, we see Wadjda add herself to it only to find that she had been taken
off. At the edge of adolescence, Wadjda discovers many limitations placed on herself
and the women in society, but, all of the situations that she finds herself in
is what pushes and made her to be more determined her to want the bicycle even
more. As mentioned before, the bicycle is a symbol of freedom in the film and
by her being able to buy the bike and riding it gives her freedom and a sense
of liberation.

Us as the audience
could say that Wadjda gets away with her behaviour because she doesn’t know
better, the fact that the man of the house being her father is not strict there
for lets her get away with a lot, but the fact of the matter is that she does
know better and is in fact a wise child.

In the film,
everyone around Wadjda thinks that she is just a child and doesn’t know any
better, however as the film goes on you begin to establish the reactions of the
elder people such as her teachers, parents and family friends, towards her. We
discover later in the film that Wadjda’s rebellious traits symbolise her wisdom
and intelligence towards the situation. Her personality sets an example for all
women in Saudi Arabian society that if you want something you can get it if you
are determined.

 

The discussion on how the social norms of
Saudi Arabian society are subverted through the theme of rebellion is
represented throughout the film in different ways with many messages behind
each scene. Each scene was well thought out and there are meanings to each part
on relation to how women cope in Saudi Arabian Society. Haifaa al-Mansour told
the story about Saudi Arabian society without being bias or portraying obvious
political agenda.

Haifaa changed the ending of the film, originally
the mother was going to die, instead, she changed it to her buying Wadjda the
bicycle. This changed the whole meaning of the film as the two endings have
different meanings and would have changed the whole meaning of the film. If the
ending of the film had led to the mother dying, in a way it throws the whole
message of the film out the window because then Wadjda would not have got her
bike which we explained symbolises freedom and she would have then lost her
mother and have to live with her father’s new family. On the other hand, by
changing the ending to Wadjda’s mother buying her the bike this then shows that
her mother accepted and agreed with Wadjda after her husband had left her for
another woman, and the fact that it ended with them symbolised empowering women
and the fact that she got her bike in the end also symbolised freedom and
liberation. The two endings change the meaning very drastically and so the
ending that Haifa changed it to fitted the story and the moral also.

After watching and analysing the film, I
found that the Wadjda’s rebellious attributes symbolise and help creates the
meaning behind the story about empowering women and the lives of women in Saudi
Arabian society.

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