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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Wadjda is the first Saudi Arabian movie to be directed by a woman, and it centers on a feisty, independent girl who wants to ride a bicycle, wear sneakers, and be able to compete against her best friend -- a boy in the neighborhood. The movie explores the various religious traditions and laws that many Muslim girls and women have to follow, especially when it comes to dress and submitting to men in authority. There are a few sad moments, references to girls having their period, and one incident in which a male construction worker says something lewd to a young girl, but otherwise there's no violence or strong language (except for one "damn"). An adult smokes cigarettes more and more as the movie progresses. Also, the movie is subtitled rather than dubbed, but older kids and tweens should be able to keep up with the easy-to-follow story.
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What's the story?
WADJDA follows the titular character (Waad Mohammed), a feisty 11-year-old Saudi Arabian girl who marches to the beat of her own drum. She wears black Converse sneakers, makes friendship bracelets that she sells to classmates, and loves to compete against her (male) best friend, Abdullah (Abdullrahman Al Gohani). When she sees him riding a bicycle, Wadjda decides that she, too, needs a bike, even though it's considered unacceptable for girls to ride. Wadjda's parents refuse to indulge her, so the entrepreneurial girl joins her school's religion club to compete in a Quran memorization competition that awards the winner just enough to purchase the bike.
Is it any good?
The first Saudi Arabian-produced film ever to be directed by a woman, Haifaa Al-Mansour, is a triumph of nuance and substance. Enterprising young Wadjda -- with her love of Western radio, quirky Chucks with purple laces, and singular decision to beat Abdullah in a bike race -- is a study in everyday female empowerment. When her mother informs her that her father's family tree can never include her, because it only features men's names, she boldly writes "Wadjda" on a sticky note and tacks it on to the painting. The moment is both touching and a loaded statement -- her father's "glorious" legacy will never claim her.
Wadjda knows what her future holds. She must marry (one of her more pious classmates is already a wife) and bear her husband's sons -- something that her own beautiful mother was unable to do. But that's another story, because Wadjda is about independent thinking, overcoming odds, and unconditional friendship. Abdullah and Wadjda don't create a fictional world like Terabithia, but in their own way, they talk and play and compete like equals -- something just as secret and magical (and dangerous), given their homeland.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the importance of using media to explore other cultures and what growing up in other places is like. What does Wadjda teach us about Saudi Arabia?
Do you think it's obvious that the movie was directed by a woman? What do you think she's trying to say about Saudi society?
Does this movie make you want to see more foreign films? Why or why not?
- In theaters: September 13, 2013
- On DVD or streaming: February 11, 2014
- Cast: Ahd, Reem Abdullah, Waad Mohammed
- Director: Haifaa Al-Mansour
- Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship, Great Girl Role Models
- Character Strengths: Courage, Integrity, Perseverance
- Run time: 98 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements, brief mild language and smoking
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