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

'Wadja': Saudi Arabia Gazette says no

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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  1. Brett says:

    I don’t think many Saudis would have got it – I had to check other articles by Khalaf to be sure it was satire. This is because it fits alongside many other articles in the paper (I was there a few weeks ago), such as “Expats responsible for most crimes in the KSA” and the article about the Centre for Sheltering Child Beggars, which says “The children are engaged in constructive as well as recreational and sports activities. The Centre also arranges classes in memorisation of the Holy Quran. The female inmates are taught sewing and embroidery skills”!!

    Saudi is an interesting place. Keen to see the film now.

  2. Brie Becket says:

    Such a brilliant PR strategy to give the film attention! Now everyone will vote for it.

  3. CB says:

    The Saudi Gazette is a legitimate newspaper. Whether the complete article was a satire or not is one thing. The portrayal in the movie is accurate, if not an understatement. I grew up in Saudi Arabia (as an American) and my mom was pulled over several times for “driving” AKA riding her bike.

  4. James says:

    The complete Saudi Gazette article is so clearly meant as a sarcastic joke that this piece reveals far more about Tim Gray’s inability to recognize satire than it does about Saudi Arabia’s attitude towards women or cinema. A far more interesting story would have have been about how a Saudi journalist could be so free to mock the institutions of a country so famously opposed to freedom of speech.

  5. A.D. says:

    It is this article that is rather unbelievable!

    The Saudi Gazette is legit, but the editorial is pure satire, reminding one of A Modest Proposal. Did the author read it all the way through, when the piece suggests simply “removing all women from Saudi Arabia”?

    Tim Gray seems to be one of those people who fled the city during the radio broadcast of “war of the worlds”….

  6. If talking about the silly restrictions on women makes Saudis blush, then why allow the restrictions in the first place?

  7. themanwho says:

    The piece in the saudi gazette is obviously sarcastic. Are you dumb or what ?

  8. Living the Geek Life says:

    Yes, be sure to avoid all those pesky questions about oppression and censorship that have no good answers!

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