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old and new values in the Saudi film Wadja

The Saudi film Wadja (2013) tells the story of a spunky 10-year-old girl who wants a bicycle to beat her neighbor boy friend in a race. Her mother is unable to produce a son for her mother-in-law, who pressures her son to marry a second wife. He tells his wife he loves her, but she resigns herself to living alone with her daughter. The film is historic, the first Saudi feature film and by the first woman director who couldn’t talk on the street with male actors. It contrasts traditional beliefs: her mother tells Wadja not to leave the Koran open because the devil might spit on it and that the western music Wadja listens to on English-language underground radio and on tapes is evil. The school principal tells the girls that a woman’s voice is her nakedness, they should speak softly so men in the street outside the school don’t hear them, nor should they be seen by workers on rooftops in the distance. A young girl Wadja’s age brings photographs of her marriage to a 20-year-old. The family tree portrayed in her living room contains only male names; when Wadja adds a paper with her name on it, it’s removed.

But, under the influence of modernity, Wadja and her mother both wear jeans at home, Wadja wears athletic shoes, and the family plays video games. Wadja’s mother tells her that whatever she makes up her mind to do she does—she wins a contest reciting the Koran to get the prize money. When the headmistress hears that Wadja plans to use the money to by a bike she says she’ll give the money to Palestinians. When Wadja’s mother heard about this, she bought her a bicycle. In rebuttal to the film, a Saudi young woman posted on a Wadja YouTube site, “I am REALLY worried about the OPPRESSION of young Western girls and their media stuffed minds with psychological problems, eating disorders, poor self-image, lack of respect for parents and teachers. Out of the kindness of my heart I’m going to start an aid fund and get all my Saudi girls to donate to this fantastic cause. Let’s help raise the spirituality and self -confidence of these girls so they don’t all end up believing you have to strip down and show your bony bits to be something.”[i]

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