Wadjda: a critique of multiculturalism

July 23, 2013 at 2:23 pm (children, cinema, civil rights, Cycling, Feminism, film, Human rights, liberation, Middle East, misogyny, multiculturalism, secularism, women)

By Andrew Coates (reblogged from Tendance Coatsey)

Wadjda: Joyous and Free.

Wadjda is  pioneering film by Saudi Arabia’s first female director, Haifaa Al-Mansour. She  is also the first person to shoot a full-length feature in the country itself.

The picture is  wonderful. It also raises serious political and cultural issues.

Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) is a 10-year-old. She is referred to in reviews as  ”sparky” and “rebellious” and, somewhat patronisingly, a “sweet scamp”.

She reminded me of Marjane Satrap in Persepolis – someone  with the humour and wit to stand up for herself against the dead hand of religious pressure.

In that film Marji faced the power of Khomeni’s Iranian Islamists.

In Wadjda  the heroine has to live with the Saudi educational system and the male-dominated world of orthodox Islam.

The latter appears in the trap her mother is caught in: a life dependent on the good will of her husband, a daily commute provided by a Pakistani driver who speaks broken Arabic, and  her fears about him searching for another wife.

For her daughter we see  the continuous surveillance of her dress, and the sudden appearance of the religious police when Wadjda is seen playing around with a boy.

The scenario revolves around Wadja’s efforts to buy a bicycle.

Bikes are, naturally, not seen as suitable for modest women.

Listening to “satanic” rock music she plots to raise the cash. But selling football team colour bracelets does not get her far.

Her efforts also get ensnared by  her pious head mistress – whose constant enforcement  of the Islamic ‘modesty’ codes go against the fibre of the young rebel.

Wadjda hears that winning a  Qur’an  knowledge and recital competition could deliver her the money.

She suddenly becomes pious and sets out for victory.

As her project gets underway there are plenty of moments with a  political message.

With an admiring friend, a young boy, they pass a celebration of a suicide bomber’s death. He remarks that the martyr will  be enjoying 72 virgins in paradise.

Wadjda looks at him wryly and says,”Does that mean I’ll get 72 bicycles in heaven?”

It’s hard not to relate the film to recent discussion about multiculturalism.

It is the right thing to defend plural cultural identities, and, specifically, groups targeted by the Church and King mob of the English Defence League.

But do we want to defend those who wish to introduce a moral police like that of Saudi Arabia?

The curriculum followed by Wadjda is present in this country, in Saudi linked  schools – right up to their textbooks. It’s hard not to imagine that the religious policing that goes with it is not present.

Wadjda shows  how women can be joyous and free.

Like the Iranian film by Jafar Panahi Offside it expresses the universal hopes for human freedom.

And it does so beautifully.

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