The Director of 'Wadjda' Enters A New Realm of Animation

Wadjda

Haifaa Al-Mansour partners with Bojack Horseman producers for a new animated series.

Earlier this month, Haifaa Al-Mansour was named one of three women to join a 13-member board dedicated to the cultural and artistic development of Saudi Arabia. Al-Mansour made history with her debut feature, Wadjda. That film, about a ten-year-old who dreams of riding the forbidden green bike she passes on her way to school every morning, was the first one ever directed by a female Saudi Arabian filmmaker. Wadjda was also the first film submitted to the Academy Awards by her home country and won the National Board of Review’s prize for Freedom of Expression. Now, in Saudi Arabia, all eyes are on her.

The animation studios of ShadowMachine and the Tornante Company are eager to expand their domination outside the Netflix smash of Bojack Horseman. We reported previously that they are looking to expand into the Amazon arena with their trippy time-travel cartoon, Undone. Looking to take on even more distinct voices, they’ve acquired Al-Mansour’s next project.

According to Deadline, Miss Camel revolves around the adventures of a Saudi teen desperate to break free from her arranged marriage and seek an education at an art school beyond her borders. While at her cousin’s wedding, the young girl discovers she has the ability to communicate with animals. This gift may come in handy when crafting her escape from marital servitude.

Last year at the Dubai International Film Festival, the concept was given the IWC Filmmaker Award, which translates to $100,000. Cate Blanchett headed the jury that granted the director the prize. Another feather goes in Al-Mansour’s cap.

The director has been busy. She premiered her English-language biopic Mary Shelly, starring Elle Fanning, at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Al-Mansour is currently wrapping post-production on the Netflix comedy series, Nappily Ever After starring Sanaa Lathan, and she’s plotting a return to Saudi Arabia to film The Perfect Candidate.  That will be another biting exploration of women’s rights in her homeland.

Adult animation is finding new life on various streaming services. As companies like Amazon and Apple rise to challenge Netflix’s corner on the market, filmmakers like Al-Mansour will surely benefit. To stand out from the heard the distinctive point of view will be essential to the experience. If Wadjda proved anything, it’s that Al-Mansour offers a life experience utterly unique to the average American audience member.

When speaking to NPR in 2013, Al-Mansour preached the necessity of opening her culture up to others:

“It is up to people to change things — if they really change at heart. Not only by changing regimes and political stuff, but also by believing in women. By believing in others and becoming more tolerant, more respectful for other cultures.”

Miss Camel has a tremendous opportunity to offer insight to its audience. In the realm of animation, we are just starting to grasp stories not exclusively tinged with humor. After decades of Disney rule and Adult Swim, viewers are more open to a variation of the genre than ever before. A voice like Al-Mansour is a gift to the medium and one we’ve been craving.

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Trekkie, Not Trekker. Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects, co-host of the In The Mouth of Dorkness Podcast.