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How 'Wadjda' Brings Girl Empowerment to Saudi Girls, and Girls all Around the World

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.

Wadjda (2012)

5 / 5
5 / 5

First, I love the film, Wadjda (2012)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 when the only fictional character that resembled me, physically, was Princess Jasmine from Aladdin (1992). 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.

Wadjda on her bedroom floor, coloring her sneakers black
Wadjda coloring her sneakers black

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, how Wadjda chooses to participate in her culture. There are moments when, she is told to behave a certain way, but Wadjda doesn’t let her country’s customs and traditions 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, hijabs can represent gender expression as well as spirituality.

Wadjda in her bedroom, putting on her purple converse sneakers
Wadjda is wearing her school uniform and is putting on her purple sneakers

I also felt that 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 femininity. Wadjda’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 Wadjda in a vulnerable state, she is, nonetheless, a high-strong, rebellious girl, who doesn’t take no for an answer.

Wajdja is crying on the roof , she has her head bend down to her leg
Wadjda crying after her mother finds out she was riding her friend’s bike.

Another aspect of the film is the relationship between mother and daughter. There are times when 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.

Wajdja and her mother are intertwining their hands together as a sign of reconcile
Wadjda and her mother reconcile