08/30/2019, 19.04
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Saudi women’s struggle for emancipation and rights at the Venice Film Festival

Haifaa al-Mansour is back at the Lido with ‘The Perfect Candidate’, the story of a young woman doctor who struggles to overcome the gender-based obstacles of everyday life in Saudi Arabia. More and more women must participate in politics and be active members of society. She hopes that her movie will be screened in the kingdom.

Venice (AsiaNews) – A young Saudi female doctor seeks to change conservative mindsets in The Perfect Candidate, a cinematic tale of a woman tackling gender-based obstacles now in competition at the Venice Film Festival.

The movie by Saudi Arabia’s first filmmaker Haifaa al-Mansour illustrates changes in Saudi society and gender roles at a time of timid opening towards greater freedom and rights, as evinced by the end of the driving ban on women and the easing of male guardianship rules.

Despite male prejudices and harsh opposition in the Wahhabi-imbued society, the movie’s main character, Maryam, decides to run for office with her sisters’ help, thus sending a message of empowerment to Saudi women, which is what the filmmaker wants.

The movie screened at Venice’s Lido, one of only two by women out of 21, reflects recent changes in the kingdom, such as Maryam driving in her car. When a planned trip to Dubai falls apart, she decides to run for a spot in the municipal council, pledging to get a road paved to facilitate access to her medical clinic.

“I personally want more women to participate in politics and be active members in society,” Mansour told a press conference.

Although she knows it is an uphill struggle in a conservative society; nevertheless, she sees “a momentum change in Saudi Arabia now” and women should “take advantage of it.”

In her view, “Our womanhood should transcend race, gender and countries. We should come together as women and really support each other and believe in each other”.

Many activists and intellectuals do believe that women will lead the fight against fundamentalisms and archaic models that prevail in various Arab and Muslim societies.

For Al-Mansour, this is not her first time in Venice. In 2012, her Wadjda, the story of a 10-year-old girl who flouted the rules and rode a bicycle like any boy, competed in the Orizzonti (Horizons) section

Born in 1974 and eighth of 12 children of poet Abdoul Bahman Mansour, she graduated in literature at the American University of Cairo and obtained a Master in Film Studies from University of Sydney, Australia.

For some years, she, her husband, an American diplomat, and their two children, lived in Bahrain.

As a result of her work, the Saudi filmmaker has been harshly criticised, with a panoply of threatening letters and accusations of being is anti-Islam.

She dismisses her detractors, stating that she is not interested in the political use of her work, but rather in making observations on aspects of culture and society that should change.

For her, “No matter what the political situation is … art should always prevail and be given top priority, because it is … what pushes civilisation to grow”.

Hopefully, unlike “Wadjda,” Al-Mansour is confident that her new film will actually be screened in her native country, even though she does expect some opposition.

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