Haifaa Al-Mansour is a woman director from Saudi Arabia. She has the distinction of being the first woman in that country to direct a film. That was in 2012. Since then she’s gone on to direct several more films. By now we can draw some conclusions about her.
The 2012 film Wadjda was made in Saudi Arabia. It was about a curious, free-spirited young girl named Wadjda (Waad Mohammed). She wanted a bicycle. She wanted to race her best friend Abdullah (Abdullrahman Al Gohani).
Girls are not allowed to ride bicycles in Wadjda’s world. Nor did she have the money to buy one. She was always in trouble in school, but when she found out she could win enough money to buy a bike by memorizing verses of the Koran, she started memorizing!
Amid her quest to buy a bike, her family was falling apart because her father was marrying a second wife. Naturally, things did no go as expected for the youngster. But Wadjda was so smart and funny and independent in her thinking that she warmed my heart anyway.
Haifaa Al-Mansour wrote and directed this one.
We move to 2017 and the UK for Mary Shelley, about the famous author of “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.” Set in 1818 in Scotland, we again meet a young woman constrained by the social conditions of her environment.
Elle Fanning plays Mary. At the age of 16 she leaves home on the arm of the poet Shelley (Douglas Booth). He was already married at the time, with a child. Mary was a writer herself, but struggled for an original idea to make into a story.
Her experiences and disappointments with Shelley, her depression and abandonment by him and her family, led to the idea for Frankenstein. But she wasn’t a helpless abandoned lover. She was a fighter and a feminist. She wanted her own name on her book. She insisted she had the same rights as a man.
Haifaa Al-Mansour directed and co-wrote this one.
Nappily Ever After
Nappily Ever After came out in 2018. I reviewed it then. I’ll summarize by saying it starred Sanaa Lathan as a woman who thought perfect hair was the secret to success. A Black woman trying to have perfect hair for a white world has a lot of work to do. Unless she says, “To hell with it,” and becomes her authentic self.
This time, Haifaa Al-Mansour directed someone else’s story.
The Perfect Candidate
The Perfect Candidate hasn’t been released in the US yet. Al-Mansour co-wrote and directed this film. She went back to Saudi Arabia for this story of female empowerment about Dr. Maryam Alsafan (Mila Al Zahrani) and her run for public office.
The film has a trailer from the UK, which make me want to see it when it’s released in the states.
Haifaa Al-Mansour has also moved into TV directing. She’s done episodes of The Society, Motherland: Fort Salem, The Good Lord Bird, and The Wilds. Like everyone else, she’s been slowed down by the corona virus but has projects in pre-production.
I don’t often do profiles of women directors. There are other sites that devote a lot of space to it. But I have been so impressed by this Saudi woman’s independent mind and inspiring feminism that I wanted to bring her to the attention of the readers here. She’s become one of my favorite directors.