International Events: International Movie Night
In the first semester of the 2015-2016 school year, the Freshman Global Engagement Fellows all had a discussion about sharing their favorite international movies that had either inspired them, or they had simply enjoyed. We thought it would be a great idea to socialize and explore foreign cultures, and who doesn’t like a good movie?
After much planning, the international movie night was planned for January 29th, 2016 at a small local coffee shop in Norman called Gray Owl Coffee. It is a locally owned coffee shop that features made from scratch baked goods and almost gourmet coffee. They also sometimes play films on a projector on Friday nights.
The film we chose was called “Wadjda”, a film about a girl in Saudi Arabia who wishes desperately to ride a bike in a society where it is deemed improper for women to ride bikes or do other physical activities. The film was proposed by Global Engagement Fellow, Britt Leake, a student with a deep interest in Arabic studies. After the film he explained to me how it was actually a very special film, being very controversial and only approved for production by a progressive royalty member.
As the night rolled around and we finally got the sound on the projector working, we began watching the film.
A few things surprised me as I watched the film which, as an American, I hadn’t considered ever to be acceptable conduct. The reality of life in Saudi Arabia was something that I had never fully looked into.
The first of which is the way religion is tied in with school there. In Oklahoma, it is sometimes debated and criticized how at beginning of the day in public schools, there is a moment of silence after the pledge of allegiance to give students the opportunity to “meditate, pray or engage in other silent activities”, with heavy debates centered around the word, ‘pray’. Constitutionally, the public school system has no legal justification for using that word or enforcing a moment of silence, however Oklahoma is located in a demographically Christian area of the United States and is consequently more focused on religious ideologies.
However, in the film, there were instances in which the whole girl’s section was brought to meeting so that they could be told that no flowers or notes were allowed at school anymore so that the holiness could be maintained, as a boy and girl had been caught during recess. Frequently the little girls are told to go inside and be “proper women”, as there are male construction workers on a roof near by.
Wadjda herself enters a school Qur’an recitation contest in order to try and win money for the bike she wishes to purchase. It seems as though the entire female population of the school attends the event, and when she wins and mentions she wants to buy a bike with her reward, the female mentor refuses to give her the prize money and instead decides to donate it to “their brothers in Palestine”.
The forcing of the females to cover up or else be deemed unclean, the school wide Qur’an recitation, the separation of the genders to maintain holiness and cleanliness, are all extremely foreign concepts to me. I am a woman who walks around in shorts and a t-shirt on casual days. I love sports, I love working out. The gyms I attend are frequently filled with men who see me working out in a tank top and shorts. It shocked me to see a culture so utterly different than my own in regards to how my gender is treated, and it made me consider the feminist movements in the United States and the reception they would receive in Saudi Arabia.
Another aspect that shocked me about the film is the conflict between Wadjda’s mother and father. The father is looking for his second wife, a perfectly normal and legal thing in Saudi Arabia. His wife is heartbroken by this, and yet her father cannot see any wrong-doing in his search for a second wife. In the United States, polygamy is illegal. In the film, the husband is searching for another wife as if it is the most natural thing in the world.
The strong contrast between United States and Saudi Arabian culture opened by eyes to how entirely different the world can be. Until now, of course I had imagined that there were cultures different than my own, but never had I truly considered on in which almost every aspect of my life would be considered either illegal or extremely looked down upon.