Meet Haifaa Al-Mansour, the Godmother of Saudi Cinema
By Muhammed Aladdin
Born with a heart full of passion and fierce determination, Haifaa Al-Mansour is Saudi Arabia’s first female filmmaker of international renown. She is one of the country’s most well-known directors and has made herself a household name in Hollywood.
Young Haifaa found herself the eighth child in a family of fourteen. Herr father, Saudi Poet Abdul Rahman Mansour, instilled in her the love for cinema through introducing her to videos as there were no movie theaters in Saudi Arabia between 1983 and 2018.
With his blessing and encouragement, Haifaa Al-Mansour went on to graduate with a Bachelor degree in Literature from the American University in Cairo. Some years later, she obtained a Masters’ degree in Film Studies from the University of Sydney, Australia.
Her professional career started out when she crafted the three widely-acclaimed short films “Who?”, “The Bitter Journey”, and “The Only Way Out”. These masterpieces claimed more than one prize in film festivals in both the United Arab Emirates and The Netherlands.
Haifaa Al-Mansour’s debut feature film, “Wadjda” is the only full-length film to be shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, and as of 2013, it has been credited of being the only feature to be shot by a female filmmaker in the Kingdom.
“Wadjda” tells the story of a young Saudi girl, living in the suburbs of Riyadh, who dreamed of owning a green bicycle. The plot, scenes, and soundtrack were so superb and heart-moving that the film got selected as Saudi Arabia’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards. It was the first time Saudi Arabia submits a film for the Oscars!
“Women Without Shadows” is one of her masterpieces that details, through a series of interviews, the role of Saudi women in shaping the country’s society. The film inspired a wave of Khaleeji female filmmakers that now view her as a role model.
In 2018, she directed “Nappily Ever After”, a Netflix romantic comedy that depicts a heartfelt hairdresser that helps a young woman realize she is not living her life to the fullest and inspires her to put everything in her life back together. Audiences, as well as critics, fell in love with the film, and Haifaa Al-Mansour became more than the first female Saudi filmmaker; she became a phenomenon.
At the 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos, Haifaa Al-Mansour received the Crystal Award for her leadership in the cultural transformation of the Arab World. That’s surely a well-deserved honor one that is larger-than-life.