Saudi’s first female film-maker has something she’d like to say

Haifaa al-Mansour , the woman behind Netflix's new hit Nappily Ever After, tells Grazia that empowering women is essential for change
Saudi’s first female film-maker has something she’d like to say

Haifaa al-Mansour is the perfect example of why you should never underestimate the power of a woman. At 44, she is Saudi Arabia’s first female film-maker, and has wasted no time using her voice as a platform for change in the region.  

Grazia has the pleasure of meeting with the mum-of-two to discuss her latest film, Nappily Ever After, as well as detail women's issues close to her heart...

“To me, being female is about empowering and supporting other women. This is essential for positive change, particularly in this region,” Haifaa starts.

For women everywhere, not just in Saudi, this is their moment. There is so much change happening and we, as women, need to be bold enough to embrace that change and make it work for us. If embraced openly, the process could be amazing - we just need to work hard and move with it, not against it,” she continues.

Haifaa is one of Saudi's best-known directors

So, did Haifaa always know she wanted to be a director? “No,” she replies swiftly. “I enjoyed storytelling when I was a kid, I was fascinated with how it can draw people in, but my mum wanted me to become a doctor as the profession runs in the family. There was a bit of pressure on me and I didn’t get the grades, so I was going to be an English teacher. Finally, I ended up telling stories through film and have never looked back.”

Offering advice to fellow females, she adds: “Women should try and find a profession that makes them happy. I know it’s not always that simple, but if you’re passionate about something you’re more likely to succeed and achieve great things. I’m very lucky that I get to do what I love.”  

The success of Haifaa’s films, including Wadjda, the first full-length feature to be shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, and award-winning documentary Women Without Shadows, has influenced a whole new wave of Saudi film-makers. Her most recent Netflix original movie, Nappily Ever After, is based on the novel by Trisha R Thomas, and sees a black woman living a seemingly perfect life. With this she maintains perfect, long, straight hair, despite the effort it takes to maintain it. A series of events leads her to realise that her hair has been a symbol of her not living life as she really wants to, so she shaves her head and later pitches an ad campaign that seeks to encourage women to see their natural hair as beautiful.

Sanaa Lathan plays a young woman called Violet in Nappily Ever After 

“I could really relate to the story on a personal level,” Haifaa reveals. “There is a lot of pressure on Arab woman to have shiny, silky hair in order to look perfect and polished. I understood how it feels to be something other than perfect, so the character and what she stands for is what made me fall in love with the movie.”

Next for the inspirational director is going back to Saudi to shoot another film, The Perfect Candidate, which is about a female doctor. She smiles, "I’m preparing for that, and I am of course excited to be going back to Saudi.”   

Photos: Getty Images