In Saudi Arabia, a little girl (Wadjda) is told she can’t have a bike because she’s a girl. Wadjda struggles to obtain a bicycle to race her friend, Abdullah, due to the gender inequality and cultural norms of Saudi Arabia.
First and foremost, I really love the film, Wadjda for indulging in femininity. Wadjda reminds me of my younger self, who had wavy, untamed hair and preferred to wear sneakers over flats and heels. There was a time where the only female character that resembled me physically was Princess Jasmine from Aladdin. We came from different backgrounds but like me, Jasmine had long, flowing hair and the lightest brown skin. I didn’t have many female role models that had my type of hair or my skin color. As I watched Wadjda, I told myself “where was this film when I was ten”. I kept imagining how great it would have been to meet a real-life Wadjda, we could have colored our sneakers together.
I may not be little anymore, but I could still relate to what Wadjda was experiencing. She’s under observation from her headmistress at school, her mom, and society itself. In the scene where Wadjda is asked to wear plain black shoes instead of her purple converses, she compromised by coloring them black. What I love about this scene is Wadjda is participating in her culture how she chooses, there are moments where she is told to behave a certain way, but Wadjda doesn’t let her religion take away the part of her that makes her Wadjda. This is where girl empowerment plays a role in, Wadjda, the main character’s transgression from not wearing black shoes and not always covering her hair fully with the hijab shows agency in women; the western narrative is quick to associate hijabs with oppression but in fact, hijbas can represent gender expression as well as spirituality.
I also felt like this film is about girlhood. I remember a scene where Wadjda saw two older girls putting on blue nail polish, in a later scene Wadjda also puts on blue nail polish on her toenails. The nail polish definitely symbolizes girlhood to adolescence, which is why the film indulges in Wadja’s femininity. Wadja’s hair which is also tied to her femininity represents her free spirit. In the scene below, Wadjda’s mom catches her riding a bike, after this confrontation Wadjda sobs because what’s the point of owning a bike if she couldn’t ride it. While this shot shows Wadja in a vulnerable state, she nonetheless a high-strong, rebellious girl who doesn’t take no for an answer.
Another aspect of the film is the relationship between mother and daughter. There are times where Wadjda’s mom scolds her for wanting a bike, but her intentions are out of love. The only reason her mom wouldn’t buy her a bike is because Saudi Arabia’s society doesn’t allow girls to ride bikes. In the end, her mother bought her the bike because a parent’s true happiness is making their child happy. I’ve been empowered by Waad Mohammed’s performance as Wadjda, and I know other girls will be too.