The Saudi Arabian director directed her first film, Wadjda, hiding in the back of a van on the streets of Riyadh. Now her latest, The Perfect Candidate, is opening doors in Hollywood
Haifaa Al-Mansour’s latest film, The Perfect Candidate, opens with a doctor in her 20s driving to work. In any other film you wouldn’t register the fact that she’s behind the wheel. But this woman, dressed in a black abaya and niqab, is in Saudi Arabia, which until 2018 banned women from driving. Al-Mansour added the scene as a punch-the-air moment for female audiences in Saudi Arabia, an invite to a collective whoop of victory. “I know that in the west this seems like common-sense stuff,” she says. “But I think they’ve really helped women to see themselves as an independent people.” She fixes me with an earnest look, to see if I get it. “For younger professional women, it’s huge, because it gives them control over their destiny.”
Al-Mansour is Saudi Arabia’s first female director. In 2011, she shot her debut, Wadjda, hiding in the back of a van. It would have been impossible for a woman to be seen openly on the street giving orders to men. So, she kept out of sight and used a walkie-talkie (“But I’m sure you could hear my voice all over Riyadh. ‘Do that!’ ‘Pull the camera back!’”) The film was gorgeous, a funny, big-hearted story about a gobby 10-year-old girl who would stop at nothing to get her hands on a bike. Al-Mansour shrugged off the death threats (“One of them told me they had a coffin ready for me”). Spend five minutes in her company and you are struck by her optimistic energy.