Movie Industry in Saudi Arabia
Information sharing is an important factor in the growth and development of the society today. Nations that allow their citizens to access and use information gathered from various sources enable them to effectively handle the challenges that they are faced with. In usual occasions, people gain access to information from a variety of sources like film, radio, newspapers, TV among others. In Saudi Arabia, the state prohibits its media from making some kinds of information available to the people. This has the ability of negatively impacting the performance of the people as well as their general wellbeing. The Saudi Arabian government specifically prohibits the film industry from airing movies. This has different effects on the entrepreneurs that wish to invest in this industry. Despite the various restrictions on the country’s film industry, the director of Wadjda movie managed to overcome all of them.
The government of Saudi Arabia considers the act of watching movies as a waste of time that could instead be used for other constructive activities (Lacey 113). With regards to this, it argues that even though movies are a source of entertainment, watching them consumes a lot of time. With respect to the cost benefit analysis, the gains that are acquired from movies are minimal. Despite the economic rewards that are acquired by the movie owners, the viewers do not get any tangible gains. As a result of this, the government prohibits the production of movies and discourages its people from spending time watching them. However, it does not prohibit the people from watching decent television programs. These are watched via satellite television; however, there are strict prohibitions from watching pornographic programs.
The Saudi Arabian government also restricts the production and watching of movies since it believes that they have negative impacts on the viewers (Zuhur 284). Saudi Arabia is generally a conservative society that is governed by the religious values and principles of Islam. Besides, the country embraces strict adherence to its culture and traditions. Recently, it has been criticized by the west for being overly conservative. Since the country’s values are not in line with those of the western nations, it shields its citizens from exposure to the western ideals. The country also prohibits the exposure of its way of life to the outside world through the media. This explains why Saudi Arabia takes measures to prohibit the production of movies. With regards to this, the state holds the view that exposing its people to western ideals would be harmful to the wellbeing of its people. It can specifically influence the people to assume practices and tendencies that are in contravention to its culture and value system. This has the potential of destabilizing the nation that is governed by a monarch system.
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These prohibitions in the movie industry are even much harsh on women because of various reasons. One of them is that the culture restricts women from pursuing certain careers without getting permission from the men. Besides, it also prevents the women from socializing freely with the public and they are not allowed to make any form of face-to-face contact with men who do not belong to their kin. This has made it very challenging for women to venture into the industry, especially considering that it brings them into the public domain. Despite these cultural prohibitions and a strict environment, Haifaa Al Mansour was successful in directing her movie called Wadjda in 2012. In fact, this is seemingly the first movie to be shot and recognized in Saudi Arabia (Jones 1). It brings to light, the social injustices that are experienced in Saudi Arabia. The film was accepted by the government; however, it has been viewed many times by the international community compared to the local population. The production of the movie was faced with various challenges.
According to Rice, one of the major challenges faced in the production of the film was inadequate funding (Rice 1). The potential funding agencies were reluctant about the film since they feared that it would not be successful. This is because of the restrictive environment that does not support film production, especially by women (Zuhur 285). Investors often prefer projects with the potential of delivering beneficial results. They try to look for areas that can enable them to pursue their economic interests without any difficulties. The production of films is quite expensive and requires adequate finances. This would not have been achieved by the director alone. However, she was faced with these hurdles in the earlier stages but managed to convince Rotana studios to provide financial assistance for the project as a way of women empowerment (Rice 1).
On the other hand, Haifaa Al Mansour points out that it was not easy to find actors for the film. She wanted young female actors yet most of the parents could not allow their young children to act in the film because of the cultural and religious restrictions (Jones 1). As revealed earlier, culture prevents women from publicly taking part in social activities. Therefore, although very many young girls were willing to be part of the project, their parents could not authorize them. The director eventually got actors from a production company that recruits young children to take part in religious festivals. In order to make sure that things went on as planned, the filming process was not conducted in the public.
Another hitch that was also faced by the production team is difficulties in convincing the well established adult actors to take part in the movie. With regards to this, the script required that Saudi Arabian males and females take part in the casting of the movie. Since most of them fully recognize the nature of the film industry in the country, they turned down the request to be part of the project. In fact, a significant percentage of these tend to prefer working for television producers. Comparatively, TV is more profitable compared to acting in movie theatres (Lippman 118). In the same way, female actors were pessimistic about the project. The popular TV star who played the role of a mother of the young girl did not consider this as an opportunity that would be profitable. This is because of the fact that social conditions in Saudi Arabia do not support the distribution of movies. Gender segregation and strict cultural values prohibit people from taking part in the film industry. The movie industry has very lucrative opportunities that can go a long way in empowering the citizens (Zuhur 288). Thus, the government should consider reviewing the policies that regulate the activities in the sector so as to open it up for economic exploitation.
In conclusion, it is worth noting that the film industry in Saudi Arabia is faced with a series of shortcomings. Despite the restrictions, Haifaa Al Mansour succeeded in producing Wadjda. The government’s perception of the film is that it is a social aspect that consumes a lot of time. Further, the tendency of watching movies has negative impacts on the viewers and can even compromise social and political stability of the country. During the production of the film, the director was faced with various setbacks that ranged from inadequate financial resources to lack of actors and poor infrastructure. Despite all these challenges, she managed to successfully produce the movie that ended up gaining the government’s approval. Since the movie industry in Saudi Arabia is lucrative, the government needs to consider undertaking a review of its policies in this regard so as to encourage exploitation. In fact, this would be a sustainable way of ensuring that the people are empowered and enlightened.
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Jones Emily. Haifaa Al Mansour: Saudi Arabia’s first female film maker. The University of Sydney. 30th January, 2013. Web. 21st November, 2013.
Lacey Robert. Inside the kingdom: Kings, clerics, modernists, terrorists, and the struggle for Saudi Arabia. New York: Penguin Books, 2010. Print.
Lippman Thomas. Saudi Arabia on the edge: The uncertain future of an American Ally. USA: Potomac Books, 2012. Print.
Rice Francesca. The 7 reasons we’re in awe of this woman: Saudi Arabia’s first female film director, Haifaa al-Monsour. Marie Claire. 19th July 2013. Web. 21st November, 2013
Zuhur Sherifa. Saudi Arabia. New York: ABC-CLIO, 2012. Print.