I’ve asked my three granddaughters to reserve a day for me this week, their last week of summer vacation. “We can do whatever you want.”
They decide on a movie and an ice cream afterwards.
“Alvin and the Chipmunks.”
We go to the multicine at the mall and stand in the line to buy tickets and another snail-slow line to buy Combo #3 – a giant bag of popcorn, drinks and candy. The movie has already started. We grope our way to our numbered seats and settle down to distribute the goodies. I try to ignore the fact that my sandals stick to the floor.
I love looking at the girls’ entranced faces while they watch the movie. It’s a happy, funny film with singing and dancing. I even manage to stay awake. When it ends, Colomba says. “That was so short.” We file out with smiles on our faces. I ask them if they still have space for an ice cream. They decide they do.
A few days later, a friend and I take the metro downtown to see a movie at one of the few theaters that show art/foreign films. The theater is located in an old, once bohemian part of town, though now invaded with restaurants and coffee shops. The theater, separated from the small lobby/ticket office by a shabby red velvet curtain, seats about one hundred. We’ve come to see “Wadjda” or “The Green Bicycle,” the first film made by a Saudi Arabian woman. Through the eyes of ten-year-old Wadjda, we enter the restricted, controlled world of Saudi women. Her mother and the school director remind her to keep her hair covered, not to speak to or be seen uncovered by unknown men, not to play with her neighborhood friend, Abdullah. Wadjda observes how her mother must hire a driver to take her to work as women are not allowed to drive. She helps her mother prepare food for her father and his friends, then leaving the food outside the door of the room where they are gathered.
Wadjda is a free spirit, wears running shoes under her long black robe, listens to American pop music and doesn’t understand the restrictions which go against what comes naturally to her. Her greatest wish is to buy a green bicycle she’s seen in a shop so she can race with Abdullah. She saves her money but the school director and her mother tell her that girls do not ride bicycles.
My friend and I leave the theater pensive, struck by the discrimination we’d observed in that subtle portrayal of Wadjda’s reality. We discuss the movie as we walk along the sidewalk crowded with diversely-clad, talking and laughing men and women, rushing to enjoy a beer or an ice cream on this hot Friday afternoon.