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Haifaa Al Mansour, female pioneer of Saudi cinema


Haifaa Al Mansour is the first Saudi woman to have directed and shot a feature film in her homeland. The film, Wadjda, has been received with international acclaim.

Haifaa Al Mansour grew up in a large family, in a small town east of the capital. She is the eighth of 12 children born to parents who were devout believers of Islam, who were ready to give everything to their daughters and sons, in spite of external societal pressures.

After studying comparative literature, and obtaining a Bachelor’s in Art from the American University in Cairo, Haifaa returned to Saudi Arabia in 2000. She began working for a major oil company, where she taught English and French, as well as how to operate a camera. She began creating short films followed by a documentary in 2006, Women without Shadows, which was shown in 17 countries and selected by the Abu Dhabi Film Festival.

I hope my career will give young Saudi girls the courage to achieve their artistic aspirations.

Wadjda: An indication of change

She had her big break in 2013 with her first feature Wadjda, for which she was nominated 17 times, sweeping up awards in nine different international festivals.

The film features a girl living in the suburbs of Riyadh, who dreams of riding a bike. Fearing the reactions of their conservative society, her mother doesn’t allow it. Wadjda enrolls in a Quran recital competition, in order to raise the money to buy her dream bike.

Extrait du film Wadjda

Extrait du film Wadjda

There are thousands of little Wadjdas in Saudi Arabia ready to fight for their dreams

The film fueled controversy in Saudi Arabia, as it tackled taboos with its depiction of restrictions imposed on Saudi women. Yet Haifaa doesn’t consider herself rebellious: her goal is to depict her transitioning society’s daily life, and the complexity of the line between tradition and openness towards the world.

Saudi society has slowly begun to open up- though the process is very slow. Some changes are palpable: for instance I was shooting Wadjda with permission from the authorities

More to come in 2018

Following Wadjda’s international success, Haifaa Al Mansour has her sights set on Hollywood! Her next film will be released in France in 2018, and tells a love story between Percy Shelley and the young Mary Wollstonecraft, who is depicted at age 17, one year before penning the her famous novel Frankenstein.

Through her career path, and her works, Haifaa Al Mansour sends a clear message: nothing comes in the way of a young, passionate woman.

There are many talented girls who, tomorrow, will be called upon to play leading roles in the Kingdom