The Tale of a Young Girl Looking for Freedom in Wadjda

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Women’s History Month offers the opportunity to shine a spotlight on often overlooked contributions to culture. This March, UWE third-year BA Film Studies students are providing a series of weekly film reviews that showcase women’s lives globally. This week, Lydia Cooper reviews ‘Wadjda’, the first female-directed Saudi feature film.

Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) and her Mother (Reem Abdullah) in a shot from Wadjda. Dir. Haifaa al-Mansour, Soda Pictures, 2012.[Description: young girl sat in the middle seat of a car looking out the window. Behind her in the backseat is another woman also looking out the window.]

Haifaa al-Mansour’s 2012 film Wadjda is remarkable not just because of its quality as a film, but also because was made in the first place. Wadjda is the first film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia and the first Saudi Arabian film from a female director. On top of all this, it’s a great coming of age story of a girl trying to be herself in an environment that is holding her back.

Wadjda stars Waad Mohammed as Wadjda, a young girl living in Riyadh with her mother, who, after making friends with a boy in her neighbourhood, decides to save up to buy a green bike so she can race him.

Wadjda is discouraged from getting the bike and is continuously told that girls should not ride bikes. Wadjda’s fixation on buying the bike provides an isolated incident to show the issues of women’s freedom in Saudi Arabia; although a bike is quite a simple thing for a child to want, for Wadjda this represents the prospects of hope and freedom in the conservative, patriarchal society she lives in.

Wadjda is a really lovely film with a lot of heart and Waad Mohammed is a large part of this. Despite being a first-time actress, she sparkles on screen, and manages to give a natural performance that is equally funny and emotional. The structure of the film is quite conventional but al-Mansour’s use of location filming and handheld camera creates a sense of realism and makes us feel closer to the women the film centres around.

Wadjda may not be the most innovative film in the world but it is a thoroughly enjoyable and hopeful story about a very complex subject, with a charming performance at the centre.

Further viewing on Kanopy:

Feminism Inshallah(2014) – Dir. Feriel Ben Mahmoud
Ten(2002) Dir. Abbas Kiarostami

Mavis! The Joyful Life of a Gospel Legend.

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Women’s History Month is taking place throughout March with multiple events happening at UWE. As part of the celebrations, third-year BA Film Studies students are providing a series of weekly film reviews. The first in the series is Mavis! which documents the life of civil rights icon and blues singer, Mavis Staples, reviewed by Aoife Ranyell.

Shot from Mavis! Dir. Jessica Edwards. Dogwoof, 2015. [Description: A woman is standing on a stage looking at the crowd singing into a microphone. She has both arms in the air and is smiling.]

There is no better way to begin Women’s History Month than by showcasing a true power icon and legend of women’s music history. Directed by Jessica Edwards, Mavis! is a feel-good documentary focussing on the life and talent of the woman in question: rhythm, blues and gospel singer, lead vocalist in her family band The Staple Singers, inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and verbal civil rights activist, Mavis Staples.

Taking a chronological, first-person approach to retelling Mavis’s life and story, the 80-minute runtime tightly packs in decades’ worth of music and history: from her roots in church gospel singing, through her connection with Dr Martin Luther King, to where we can find her now. She is still performing and making her incredible soulful music, and at the point of release, Mavis had been touring for 60 years – she’s not your ordinary 82-year-old. Mavis’s warming, animated personality radiates through the screen and it’s very difficult not to be completely enamoured with her. Edwards intersperses charismatic interviews with footage from Mavis’s bellowing live performances (that will undoubtedly give you goosebumps), backstage recording sessions, and snippets of her private life – including a fleeting romance with a young Bob Dylan, and her electric friendship with the one-and-only Prince.

This confident documentary truly highlights the innate joy, passion and hope that Mavis generates in everyone she meets, and it’s no surprise that by the end of the film you are left feeling her good nature and powerful energy within you. As she says herself:

“I’m just doing what I’ve always done. Just trying to bring love and music to the people.”

Mavis Staples

And she certainly does that.

Further Viewing:

You can access the full list of events happening for Women’s History Month via the UWE Website.

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