A Saudi film director makes her debut...
May 29, 2003 8:27 AM   Subscribe

Haifaa al-Mansour might be the only active female Saudi filmmaker in existence. Her film recently debuted at a festival in the United Arab Emirates, and although it didn't win, it did create quite a stir among the attendees. Her father, also a director, and her family helped her get the project off the ground in a country where some believe even owning a television set is a sin, and where women have very little opportunity outside the home. Using the web as a means of distribution, al-Mansour hopes to someday see her creations on the big screen all over the world.
posted by greengrl (7 comments total)
I'll watch the film as soon as I get home (damn slow work connection!), but I do have one gripe about the FPP. Yes, things suck if you're a woman in Saudi, but it's sensationalist to say that "women have very little opportunity outside the home". In fact, ten percent of private businesses in SA are owned by women. Wonder what that percentage is here in the US?
posted by laz-e-boy at 9:21 AM on May 29, 2003

It's funny because I know two Saudi women who live in Saudi Arabia, one is a doctor and one is a lawyer. Of course, they are both married to well established, wealthy men, so they are not a part of the general Saudi tribal society that exists outside of the elite. There seems to be a massive disconnect in that country between the elite and the average citizens, a gulf that cannot be compared to virtually any other country.
posted by cell divide at 9:29 AM on May 29, 2003

Answering my own question: that would be 26% of businesses in the US that are women-owned.
posted by laz-e-boy at 9:50 AM on May 29, 2003

Of course, there are many more businesses per capita in the U.S.; back to the elite/non-elite thing.

I can't watch the movie now as I'm supposed to be working, but it doesn't seem entirely clear from the description how critical the movie is of the forced envailment of women. Is there any direct symbolism in there, or is it more a holistic (ack, I hate that word) sort of feeling built up over the course of the film?

(I'm reminded of Eastern European fiction; during the soviet era, people got pretty good at burying meanings in seemingly innocuous texts, trying to see what they could slip by the censors. Is that sort of thing common in Saudi Arabia?)
posted by Tlogmer at 10:13 AM on May 29, 2003

While veiling of the hair is common throughout the Muslim world, the type of veiling of the face that you see in Saudi is unique (apart from pre/post-Taliban Afghanistan and various tribal pockets in the Muslim world). The point that is being made is that once you veil the face, you can't tell who you're dealing with, which presents problems both for women who want to interact normally with the world and, as the film shows, for safety reasons.
posted by laz-e-boy at 10:37 AM on May 29, 2003

wow, that was a really interesting short piece.
it has its flaws (predictable plot, etc) but the use of music and pacing is fantastic. very interesting work. and wow, those last few minutes must really be something to watch if you're in that part of the world.

thanks for pointing out this work, greengrl
posted by Peter H at 11:52 AM on May 29, 2003

A Saudi view of the changing roles of women, which puts a different spin on the numbers: While Saudi women’s participation in the government accounts for nearly 14 percent of the total Saudi and non-Saudi work force in this sector, their share in the private sector remains very limited at around 0.5 percent. They represent 18 percent of the Saudi labor force in government and 2.6 percent in the private sector. Many of the women-owned businesses are beauty salons, dressmakers, and other shops catering only to women -- thus reflecting not women's industriousness per se but rather the need for gender segregation in personal services.

Continuing the elite/non-elite idea, one of the more interesting side notes on the recent bombings of Western targets in the Kingdom was the high number of Saudi casualties -- as educated, elite, and sometimes mixed-marriage Saudis flock to the compounds to escape the otherwise omnipresent Wahhabi religious police: women can take off their veils and walk unescorted; men can wear tennis shorts and sun themselves. Inside the compounds, it's like a little slice of California. In fact, it's very likely that this demographic was as much a target of the terrorists as were any Americans or Europeans.

It is important to remember that while SA is a rentier oil state today, Arabs in general have a history of commerce (Muhammad's wife Khadija was a widowed merchant!), and the restrictions on private life are not so much the product of a state totalitarianism as a toleration of blackshirt tactics which consistently marginalize reform. Allegedly almost any Saudi businessman worth his salt will happily serve wine at dinner with Westerners, but won't dare let his wife drive for fear of the backlash.
posted by dhartung at 12:10 PM on May 29, 2003

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