Haifaa al-Mansour

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Haifaa al-Mansour

Haifaa al-Mansour (Arabic: هيفاء المنصورHayfā’a al-Manṣūr; born 10 August 1974) is a Saudi Arabian film director. She is one of the country's best-known and most controversial directors, and the first female Saudi filmmaker.[1][2]

Early life and education[edit]

Haifaa al-Mansour is the eighth (out of twelve)[3] child of the poet Abdul Rahman Mansour, who introduced her to films by video, there being no movie theaters in Saudi Arabia between 1983 and 2018.[4] One of her favourite actors was Jackie Chan.[5] She is from Al Zulfi but grew up in Al-Hasa.[6]

With her father's encouragement, she studied comparative literature at The American University in Cairo.[4] She later completed a master's degree in Film Studies from University of Sydney, Australia.[3][7]


She began her filmmaking career with three shorts, Who?, The Bitter Journey and The Only Way Out. The Only Way Out won prizes in the United Arab Emirates and in the Netherlands.[8] She followed these with the documentary Women Without Shadows, which deals with the hidden lives of women in Arab States of the Persian Gulf. It was shown at 17 international festivals. The film received the Golden Dagger for Best Documentary in the Muscat Film Festival and a special jury mention in the fourth Arab Film Festival in Rotterdam. Haifaa al-Mansour was a guest at the 28th Three Continents Festival in Nantes, France.[1]

Her feature debut, Wadjda, which she wrote as well as directed, made its world premiere at the 2012 Venice Film Festival; it is the first full-length feature to be shot entirely in Saudi Arabia[2][9][10][11] and as of 2013, the only feature-length film made in Saudi Arabia by a female director.[3] Wadjda tells the story of a 10-year-old girl growing up in the suburbs of Riyadh, who dreams of owning and riding a green bicycle.[12] The film was backed by Rotana, the film production company of Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal.[3] Wadjda was selected as the Saudi Arabian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards, which is the first time Saudi Arabia has submitted a film for the Best Foreign Language Oscar.[13][14][15][16] The project had been developed in 2009 during the Gulf screenwriting lab, a collaboration between TorinoFilmLab and Dubai International Film Festival.

She did not intend that her film work focus on women's issues, but found them too important to not address. Both Who? and Women Without Shadows deal with the custom of abaya. She has received hate mail and criticism for being unreligious, which she denies. She does, however, feel that Saudi Arabia needs to take a more critical view of its culture.[4] She also received praise from Saudis for encouraging discussion on topics usually considered taboo.[8]

In 2014, it was reported that Al-Mansour was to direct A Storm in the Stars, an upcoming romantic drama film about the early life of writer Mary Shelley.[17] The film was later retitled Mary Shelley[18] and premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.[19]

Al-Mansour next announced she was on board to direct Nappily Ever After, an adaptation of the book of the same name by Trisha R. Thomas.[20]

She was selected to be on the jury for the Un Certain Regard section of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.[21]

In January 2019, Al-Mansour "received a Crystal Award at the World Economic Forum's 2019 meeting in Davos for her leadership in cultural transformation in the Arab world."[22]

In April 2020, it was announced that she would direct Netflix's upcoming film The Selection, based on the first entry in Kiera Cass’ popular book series.[23] In 2020, she directed an episode on The Good Lord Bird.[24]

Personal life[edit]

Haifaa al-Mansour lived in Bahrain for some years, and eventually moved to California with her husband, Bradley Niemann, an American diplomat, and their two children, Adam and Haylie.[3][25]



Year Title Director Notes
1997 Who? (من؟) Yes Short film
2000 The Bitter Journey (الرحيل المر) Yes Documentary
2001 The Only Way Out (أنا والآخر) Yes Short film
2005 Women Without Shadows (نساء بلا الظل) Yes Documentary
2012 Wadjda (وجدة) Yes Feature directorial debut
2017 Mary Shelley Yes
2018 Nappily Ever After Yes
2019 The Perfect Candidate Yes


Year Title Director Notes
2019 The Society Yes Episode: "Putting on the Clothes"
2020 Motherland: Fort Salem Yes Episode: "Hail Beltan"
2020 The Good Lord Bird Yes Episode: "Hiving the Bees"


  1. ^ a b Joan Dupont. “Saudi filmmakers come out of the shadows”. International Herald Tribune, 14 December 2006 .
  2. ^ a b "Cannes 2012: Saudi Arabia's First Female Director Brings 'Wadjda' to Fest". The Hollywood Reporter. 15 May 2012. Retrieved 8 September 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e Grey, Tobias (30–31 March 2013), "The undercover director", Financial Times, p. 14
  4. ^ a b c Danna Harman. “Middle Eastern Female Filmmakers Give Glimpse of Once-Veiled Worlds” March 10, 2008. Christian Science Monitor/Alternet.
  5. ^ Fielding-Smith, Abigail (14–15 December 2013), "The film director blazing a trail for Saudi women", Financial Times, p. 21
  6. ^ "Wadjda: A Conversation with Haifaa Al Mansour - Cultural Weekly". Cultural Weekly. 2013-09-26. Retrieved 2017-12-06.
  7. ^ "Ms Haifaa al-Mansour". Internationaleducation.gov.au. Archived from the original on 2018-06-28. Retrieved 2018-06-27.
  8. ^ a b Najah Al Osaimi. “Haifa Film Creates a Stir.” ‘’Arab News’’. 21 April 2005.
  9. ^ "Saudi's first female director seeks to break gender taboos". Times. Retrieved 8 September 2012.
  10. ^ Macnab, Geoffrey (15 May 2012). "Al Mansour reveals struggles of directing Wadjda". Screen Daily. Retrieved 8 September 2012.
  11. ^ "First film shot in Saudi to debut at Cannes". Arabian Business. Archived from the original on 24 May 2012. Retrieved 8 September 2012.
  12. ^ Valdini, Claire (16 May 2012). "First film shot in Saudi to debut at Cannes". Arabian Business. Archived from the original on 20 July 2012. Retrieved 8 September 2012.
  13. ^ "Oscars: Saudi Arabia Taps 'Wadjda' As First Foreign-Language Entry". Variety. Retrieved 2013-09-14.
  14. ^ "'Wadjda' is Saudi Arabia's first nominee for foreign-language Oscar". LA Times. Retrieved 2013-09-14.
  15. ^ "Saudi Arabia submits first film for Oscars with 'Wadjda'". Gulf News. Retrieved 2013-09-14.
  16. ^ "Oscars: Saudi Arabia Nominates 'Wadjda' for Foreign Language Category". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2013-09-14.
  17. ^ Tartaglione, February (28 February 2014). "'≤Wadjda's Haifaa Al Mansour To Direct 'A Storm In The Stars' For Gidden Media". Retrieved 2 June 2015.
  18. ^ Cecera, Rudy. "With "Mary Shelley," Woman Behind Monster Directed by Woman Behind Camera". Screen Comment. Retrieved 25 May 2018.
  19. ^ Fleming, Mike, Jr. "Toronto Film Festival 2017 Unveils Strong Slate". Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  20. ^ Kroll, Justin. "Sanaa Lathan to Star in Netflix Adaptation of 'Nappily Ever After'". Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  21. ^ "Un Certain Regard Jury 2015". Cannes Film Festival. 7 May 2015. Archived from the original on 19 May 2015. Retrieved 7 May 2015.
  22. ^ "Saudi Arabian filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour picks up Crystal Award at Davos 2019". Arab News. 2019-01-21. Retrieved 2019-01-27.
  23. ^ Kroll, Justin (2020-04-10). "Netflix to Adapt 'The Selection' Novel With Director Haifaa Al-Mansour (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved 2020-06-16.
  24. ^ Petski, Denise (August 2, 2019). "Daveed Diggs & Wyatt Russell Join 'The Good Lord Bird' For Showtime – TCA". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 3, 2020.
  25. ^ Van Syckle, Katie (September 20, 2013). "Meet Saudi Arabias Groundbreaking Filmmaker". The Cut. Retrieved September 10, 2017.

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