Haifaa al-Mansour

Haifaa al-Mansour, born on August 10, 1974, in Al-Ahsa, is a trailblazing figure in the realm of Saudi Arabian cinema. Breaking barriers as Saudi Arabia’s first female filmmaker, Haifaa al-Mansour is a leading director renowned for addressing women’s issues and societal norms. Raised in Al-Zulfi, Najd, her family, steeped in arts and culture, includes her father, Abdul Rahman al-Mansour, a renowned Saudi poet and thinker, and her mother, Bahia Hamad Al-Swayegh. Additionally, her sister, Hind Abdul Rahman al-Mansour, is a notable visual artist.

Haifaa al-Mansour’s early life and education laid the foundation for her future career. Being the eighth of twelve siblings in a large family, she discovered films through her father’s videos, given the absence of cinemas in Saudi Arabia from 1983 to 2018. Her admiration for actors like Jackie Chan sparked her love for cinema.

Motivated by her father, she pursued Comparative Literature at The American University in Cairo, graduating in 1997. Her academic journey continued with a Master’s degree in Film Studies and Film Criticism from the University of Sydney in 2009.

Haifaa al-Mansour embarked on her filmmaking career with three short films: “Who?”, “The Bitter Journey”, and “The Only Way Out”, the latter winning awards in the United Arab Emirates and the Netherlands. She then directed the documentary “Women Without Shadows”, which explores the hidden lives of women in the Gulf Arab states, garnering accolades and awards at international film festivals.

Making history, “Wadjda” shot in Riyadh, the first Saudi film submitted for the Oscars. It depicts a girl’s dream of owning a bicycle, supported by Rotana, owned by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.

Initially not focused on women’s issues, al-Mansour’s work naturally gravitated towards them. “Who?” and “Women Without Shadows” addressed the abaya, drawing both criticism and praise. Despite accusations of irreligiosity, she believes Saudi Arabia requires a more critical cultural perspective.

In 2014, she announced “A Storm in the Stars,” later titled “Mary Shelley,” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2017. She was also set to direct “Nappily Ever After.”

Al-Mansour served on the jury for the Un Certain Regard section at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. She also received the Crystal Award at the 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos, recognized for her cultural leadership. In 2020, she was slated to direct a Netflix adaptation of “The Selection” and the fifth episode of “The Good Lord Bird.”

Personal Life:

Al-Mansour spent several years living in Bahrain before moving to California. She lived with her American diplomat husband, Bradley Neiman, and their two children, Adam and Hailey. They married in a ceremony attended by the American ambassador Ford Fraker and his wife Linda Fraker, the American consul John Conkinin, Haifaa’s family, and a gathering of guests.

In her words:

“The face veil erases a woman’s identity and personality and makes her an enigmatic being without features” – Haifaa al-Mansour.

“Women still cling to traditions even though they have better options… Many traditions marginalize women and don’t give them their rights.” – Haifaa al-Mansour.

Books Written by Haifaa al-Mansour