Tim Gray on Saudi Arabia’s Head-Scratching Warning for Oscar Entry

Newspaper warns that 'Wadjda' win could hurt country

The Oscar season is barely under way, but we already have a front-runner for the oddest op-ed piece of the year.

In the Saudi Gazette, Khalaf Al-Harbi writes that “Wadjda,” which is Saudi Arabia’s first-ever foreign-language Oscar entry, should not win because it won’t be good for the country. The film concerns a 10-year-old girl who wants to ride a bike, unaware that the activity is the domain only of boys in the Kingdom.

Al-Harbi says a win for the film “will open discussion about the tribulations of the Saudi woman and her forced seclusion. We do not want such idle talk. The Saudi woman is a precious jewel which is to be tightly guarded. She should not at all think of riding a bicycle. If the circumstances obliges her to ride a bicycle as a means of transport, she can recruit an Asian driver to do the job.”

Is this a put-on? I began to wonder if the Saudi Gazette was a Middle East version of the Onion, with deadpan satires disguised as real news. But I am assured it’s the real deal.

Al-Harbi praises the “spectacular efforts” of Haifaa Al-Mansour and her team for making a film in a country with no cinemas, and he doesn’t seem to have problems with the quality of the film. But he goes on to muse, “We cannot find a single convincing reason why we do not have cinemas except that we do not want them. This is enough reason. The cinema is not our biggest problem, so why we care about it? We have many other more important problems to fix.”

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