Liberating Bicycles in Niki Caro’s Whale Rider and in Haifaa Al Mansour’s Wadjda

Doris Ham­buch

Abstract: Susan B. Antho­ny declared in 1896 that the bicy­cle “has done more to eman­ci­pate women than any­thing else in the world.” The com­par­a­tive study of Whale Rid­er (2002) and Wad­j­da (2012) demon­strates that this lib­er­at­ing effect of the basic tool of trans­porta­tion is being rein­forced in the new mil­len­ni­um. The analy­sis fur­ther sit­u­ates two con­tem­po­rary women film­mak­ers, Niki Caro from New Zealand and Haifaa Al Man­sour from Sau­di Ara­bia, with­in the grow­ing glob­al net­work Patri­cia White iden­ti­fies, in Women’s Cin­e­ma, World Cin­e­ma (2015), as cru­cial for the improve­ment of female direc­tors’ con­di­tions in a glob­al film industry.

Résumé: Susan B. Antho­ny a déclaré en 1896 que la bicy­clette « a fait plus pour émanciper les femmes que toute autre chose dans le monde ». L’étude com­par­a­tive de Whale Rid­er (2002) and Wad­j­da (2012) démon­tre que cet effet libéra­teur de l’outil de base des trans­ports se ren­force au cours du nou­veau mil­lé­naire. De plus, l’analyse situe deux cinéastes con­tem­po­raines, Niki Caro de Nou­velle-Zélande et Haifaa Al Man­sour d’Arabie Saou­dite, au sein du réseau mon­di­al en crois­sance que Patri­cia White iden­ti­fie, dans Women’s Cin­e­ma, World Cin­e­ma (2015), comme cru­cial pour l’amélioration des con­di­tions des réal­isatri­ces dans une indus­trie ciné­matographique mondiale.

Table of Con­tents | Arti­cle doi: 10.17742/IMAGE.OI.10.2.9 | PDF

Susan B. Antho­ny declared in 1896 that the bicy­cle “has done more to eman­ci­pate women than any­thing else in the world” (Raab 24). The present com­par­a­tive study argues that Niki Caro and Haifaa Al Man­sour pay trib­ute to Anthony’s fem­i­nist spir­it when they cre­ate girl pro­tag­o­nists whose bicy­cles play cru­cial roles in their debut fea­tures, Whale Rid­er (2002) and Wad­j­da (2012) respec­tive­ly. Patri­cia White states, in Women’s Cin­e­ma, World Cin­e­ma: Pro­ject­ing Con­tem­po­rary Fem­i­nisms (2015), that even though “still dras­ti­cal­ly under­rep­re­sent­ed, women direc­tors are increas­ing­ly com­ing into view with­in the cur­rent cir­cu­la­tion of world cin­e­ma” (White 4). White estab­lish­es the “his­to­ry of ‘cine­fem­i­nism’” (6) as point of depar­ture for her crit­i­cal frame­work “where women’s works are encoun­tered in rela­tion to each oth­er […] and to their var­i­ous, expan­sive con­stituen­cies” (19). The cur­rent analy­sis of a film from New Zealand along­side one from Sau­di Ara­bia sit­u­ates their direc­tors with­in such a his­to­ry of cine­fem­i­nism. Indeed, both Caro and Al Man­sour pro­gressed to very diverse projects out­side their respec­tive nation­al con­texts after the inter­na­tion­al suc­cess with sto­ries that were close to home. This arti­cle argues that the lib­er­at­ing rides they grant their pro­tag­o­nists there­fore com­pare to the sub­se­quent mobil­i­ty of the direc­tors themselves.

Inau­gu­rat­ing a cin­e­mat­ic focus on the mus­cle-pow­ered trans­porta­tion device, Vit­to­rio De Sica’s Bicy­cle Thieves (1948) enforced the sym­bol­ic sig­nif­i­cance of bicy­cles in glob­al cin­e­ma. Eco­log­i­cal­ly friend­ly and not requir­ing a spe­cial license, this basic tool of trans­porta­tion has fea­tured as promi­nent prop in movies such as Break­ing Away (1979), The Fly­ing Scots­man (2006), or The Kid with a Bike (2011). It has fur­ther served as a metaphor for film­mak­ers to describe their own cre­ative process (White, 2013). Both Whale Rid­er and Wad­j­da present the bicy­cle as an effec­tive sym­bol of a girl’s grow­ing assertive­ness in con­ser­v­a­tive, trib­al com­mu­ni­ties. Attribut­ing the respec­tive hero­ines to the indus­tri­al con­texts of the two direc­tors fur­ther claims the lib­er­at­ing effect of bicy­cles on a meta-lev­el. Godard’s com­par­i­son of his work to a bicy­cle ride may apply to both Caro and Al Man­sour as well. To acknowl­edge the cen­tral­i­ty of bicy­cles in Whale Rid­er and Wad­j­da allows for a fem­i­nist angle on the neo­re­al­ist lega­cy, and it reveals this angle’s rel­e­vance for the work of the women who direct­ed the respec­tive films.1

The bicycle’s cul­tur­al rep­re­sen­ta­tions go beyond the pure­ly cin­e­mat­ic. A con­sid­er­able amount of research has dealt with the uni­ver­sal sig­nif­i­cance of bicy­cles in fic­tion. Cul­ture on Two Wheels: The Bicy­cle in Lit­er­a­ture and Film (2016), edit­ed by Jere­my With­ers and Daniel P. Shea, is a com­pre­hen­sive source that cov­ers lit­er­a­ture and film across the world and through the ages, since the inven­tion of the bicy­cle, alleged­ly in the ear­ly 19th cen­tu­ry (Raab 23). Alon Raab lists a great num­ber of writ­ers who reveal them­selves as pas­sion­ate rid­ers in “Wheels of Fire: Writ­ers on Bicy­cles.” With­ers and Shea open their intro­duc­tion with the claim that “we are liv­ing dur­ing a bicy­cle rev­o­lu­tion” (Withers/Shea 2) and go on to point out that cycling com­mon­ly asso­ciates with lib­er­a­tion. Their col­lec­tion includes a chap­ter that dis­cuss­es Al Mansour’s Wad­j­da as influ­enced by Ital­ian neo­re­al­ism and Iran­ian cin­e­ma. Anne Ciecko’s “Bicy­cle Bor­row­ers after Neo­re­al­ism: Glob­al Nou-velo Cin­e­ma,” how­ev­er, also estab­lish­es a con­text of nation­al cin­e­ma in which to sit­u­ate the neo­re­al­ist lega­cy. In the absence of a nation­al Sau­di cin­e­ma, I argue that a com­par­a­tive study of Wad­j­da and Whale Rid­er serves bet­ter to high­light the bicycle’s “extra­or­di­nary util­i­ty for cri­tiques of social inequal­i­ty” (Ciecko 242) in a fem­i­nist con­text. While Wad­j­da, as Ciecko points out, trans­forms De Sica’s father-son focus into a moth­er-daugh­ter sto­ry, Whale Rid­er adds one more gen­er­a­tion in its focus on a grand­fa­ther-grand­daugh­ter con­flict. In both films, bicy­cle rides serve to rein­force a girl’s poten­tial, against severe resis­tance. In film indus­tries, in par­tic­u­lar the well-estab­lished ones, women fre­quent­ly face severe resis­tance as well when they attempt to work behind cam­eras. Such resis­tance main­ly rests with­in the pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion appa­ra­tus, but it may also hail from film critics.

Both Al Man­sour and Caro have been accused of cul­tur­al com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion in their attempts to reach larg­er audi­ences. It may not be acci­den­tal that in both cas­es the harsh­est, and also most polem­i­cal, cri­tiques come from male crit­ics. As women film­mak­ers, Caro and Al Man­sour thus share a sim­i­lar kind of oppres­sion that their hero­ines bat­tle in their respec­tive films. One attempt to cre­ate more trans­paren­cy and achieve gen­der par­i­ty in film indus­tries is the so-called 50:50-by-2020 fes­ti­val pledge. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, not all pow­ers that be agree with this measure’s neces­si­ty (Erb­land).2 Pro­vid­ing a com­par­a­tive analy­sis of Whale Rid­er by Caro and Wad­j­da by Al Man­sour as part of De Sica’s lega­cy encour­ages crit­ics to grant these direc­tors the kind of lib­er­at­ing rides that they cre­at­ed for their respec­tive hero­ines. The fol­low­ing analy­sis begins with a dis­cus­sion of the old­er film, Whale Rid­er, which is based on a nov­el with­out bicy­cles. The sec­ond sec­tion sheds light on a bicy­cle as cen­tral prop in Wad­j­da, whose suc­cess led to a children’s book called The Green Bicy­cle (2015). “The Lib­er­at­ing Effect of Bicy­cles,” final­ly, com­pares the sym­bol­ic sig­nif­i­cance of bicy­cles in the sto­ries as well as for the work of their directors.

Whale Rider’s Shared Bicycle

The sto­ry we liked best was the one telling how Mihi had stood on a sacred ground at Rotorua. “Sit down,” a chief had yelled, enraged. “Sit down,” because women weren’t sup­posed to stand up and speak on sacred ground.” (Ihi­maera 81)

Whale Rid­er pre­miered at the 2002 Toron­to Inter­na­tion­al Film Fes­ti­val, where it received the AGF Peo­ples Choice Award. The release of a revised inter­na­tion­al edi­tion of Witi Ihimaera’s nov­el (1987; 2003), on which the film is based, accom­pa­nied the latter’s world­wide suc­cess. Among the fol­low­ing numer­ous recog­ni­tions are nine New Zealand Film Awards, includ­ing Best Film, Best Direc­tor, and Best Screen­play. Melis­sa Kennedy points out that Caro’s screen­play result­ed in “lit­tle change to the prin­ci­pal sto­ry-line,” but shift­ed the nar­ra­tive voice main­ly due to the dif­fer­ence in media (Kennedy 116). Māori schol­ars, in con­trast, dis­ap­prove of Caro’s adap­ta­tion, and Alis­tair Fox, in Com­ing-of-Age Cin­e­ma in New Zealand: Genre, Gen­der, and Adap­ta­tion (2017), argues that the film impos­es a West­ern fem­i­nist per­spec­tive. He fur­ther accus­es it of “tran­sub­stan­ti­at­ing [the orig­i­nal story]’s mean­ing in the course of con­vert­ing the source into a con­ven­tion­al com­ing-of-age genre film” (Fox 149).

Although Fox, in ref­er­ence to stud­ies by Bren­dan Hokowhitu (Fox 148) and Tania Kai’ai (Fox 149), is right to point to spe­cif­ic dis­tor­tions of Māori cul­ture, he exag­ger­ates when describ­ing the con­trast between Ihimaera’s and Caro’s work on the sto­ry. Book and film use poet­ic devices, such as sym­bol­ism, inter­tex­tu­al ref­er­ences, and rhythm to inter­weave the trib­al myth of the whale rid­er (Fig­ure 3) with the sto­ry of this ancient hero’s real-life female descen­dent. Once Paikea, the film’s nar­ra­tor, real­izes her spe­cif­ic pur­pose with­in her post-colo­nial Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ty, she real­izes she must oppose her stub­born grand­fa­ther Koro, the community’s cur­rent leader. Lars Eck­stein, in his thought­ful place­ment of the tale on a con­tin­u­um between mag­i­cal and mar­vel­lous real­ism, pro­vides impor­tant insight on the Māori writer’s own vari­a­tions of the mate­r­i­al root­ed in his trib­al mythol­o­gy. Ihimaera’s ren­der­ing of The Whale Rid­er starts with the 1987 edi­tion pub­lished in New Zealand, main­ly in Eng­lish, but includes Māori ter­mi­nol­o­gy and entire pas­sages that indi­cate an untrans­lat­able “alter­na­tive cos­mol­o­gy” (Eck­stein 101). Eck­stein is keen to empha­size that the date of this orig­i­nal pub­li­ca­tion, “about belief as much as about fan­ta­sy,” coin­cides with the intro­duc­tion of Māori as sec­ond offi­cial lan­guage in New Zealand (105). Ihi­maera sup­ports this devel­op­ment and pays trib­ute to the recog­ni­tion of his trib­al lan­guage with Te Kaieke Tohara, a 1995 Māori ver­sion of The Whale Rid­er (101).

Ihimaera’s sub­se­quent work on an inter­na­tion­al edi­tion of the nov­el coin­cides with his par­tic­i­pa­tion in the film as asso­ciate pro­duc­er (Kennedy 116). Both activ­i­ties are con­ces­sions to a broad­er audi­ence and thus medi­a­tions between cul­tures. Chris Pren­tice is right to remind read­ers, in “Rid­ing the Whale? Post­colo­nial­ism and Glob­al­iza­tion in Whale Rid­er,” that the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry ren­der­ings of the sto­ry are also medi­a­tions between gen­er­a­tions (Pren­tice 256). Māori ter­mi­nol­o­gy in the inter­na­tion­al edi­tion appears only with trans­la­tions, some­times even accom­pa­nied by a glos­sary. In the film, the trib­al lan­guage occurs only when the mean­ing is evi­dent from the scene, or with sub­ti­tles. Eck­stein sit­u­ates these new­er ver­sions fur­ther away from the mar­vel­lous on his spec­trum, due to a loss of the untrans­lat­able alter­na­tive cos­mol­o­gy. They do not, how­ev­er, replace Ihimaera’s ear­li­er text. Ide­al­ly, as in Eckstein’s class­room, they may invite com­par­a­tive stud­ies that are bound to acknowl­edge Indige­nous crit­i­cism. As with the edit­ed ver­sion of the nov­el, the inter­na­tion­al recep­tion of the film tes­ti­fies to the suc­cess of the tale’s twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry recep­tions. These new­er ver­sions have met a glob­al audi­ence, for bet­ter or worse. They have intro­duced a tale from a spe­cif­ic com­mu­ni­ty in New Zealand to view­ers world­wide who may not have been famil­iar with Māori cul­ture at all. Some of these view­ers may have mis­in­ter­pret­ed ele­ments of the set­ting, or per­ceived of it as an exot­ic oth­er.

Sarah Pro­jan­sky dis­cuss­es Amer­i­can reac­tions to Caro’s film in “Gen­der, Race, Fem­i­nism, and the Inter­na­tion­al Hero: The Unre­mark­able U. S. Pop­u­lar Press Recep­tion of Bend It Like Beck­ham and Whale Rid­er.” Pro­jan­sky traces the film’s tran­si­tion from art house to mul­ti­plex cin­e­mas across the Unit­ed States (Pro­jan­sky 190), and pro­vides a thor­ough dis­cus­sion of numer­ous review­er reports. Her use of the word “unre­mark­able” in the title of her essay sig­nals “pre­dictable,” and refers to a cer­tain com­pla­cen­cy encour­aged by sto­ries from dis­tant loca­tions. At the same time, Pro­jan­sky iden­ti­fies impor­tant dis­crep­an­cies between indi­vid­ual reviews, in par­tic­u­lar regard­ing the rel­e­vance of fem­i­nist con­tent (Pro­jan­sky 199). The diverse reac­tions Pro­jan­sky iden­ti­fies in this con­text illus­trate that fem­i­nism, even in the so-called “West,” is not the mono­lith­ic sort of move­ment Fox makes it seem in his assess­ment of Caro’s adap­ta­tion. The fol­low­ing analy­sis of spe­cif­ic scenes iden­ti­fies fur­ther flaws in Fox’s argument.

Ihimaera’s book includes no bicy­cles at all. Instead, his nar­ra­tor Rawiri, the heroine’s uncle, uses a motor­cy­cle. In Caro’s film, Paikea her­self pro­vides the nar­ra­tive per­spec­tive, and dur­ing the first half, she shares her grand­fa­ther Koro’s bike when he picks her up from school (Fig­ure 1). The bicy­cle, in this case, serves to high­light the rec­i­p­ro­cal affin­i­ty of the two fam­i­ly mem­bers, and it also draws atten­tion to the wealth of the community’s nat­ur­al envi­ron­ment. The first cycling scene occurs imme­di­ate­ly after the open­ing hos­pi­tal sequence that sum­ma­rizes the trag­ic cir­cum­stances of Paikea’s birth. A jump cut tran­si­tions to the nar­ra­tive present about sev­en years lat­er. Fol­low­ing this cut, close-up shots of ped­alling feet, the faces of the cycling pair, and the grandfather’s whale tooth neck­lace (Fig­ure 2) alter­nate with long shots of the impres­sive land­scape. These scenes mark a cer­tain ambi­gu­i­ty in Koro’s char­ac­ter regard­ing his rela­tion­ship with Paikea. When her moth­er and twin broth­er die dur­ing Paikea’s birth, Koro rejects his first grand­child force­ful­ly. He is in need of a male descen­dent to take on his lead­er­ship role. As Paikea grows up in his house, in the absence of her father, their affin­i­ty becomes mutu­al, as long as she is unaware of her fate as the next leader. This fate becomes obvi­ous for the first time when Paikea asks Koro about the community’s cre­ation myth while he is repair­ing his boat’s out­board motor.

Fig. 1: Dur­ing the first half of the film, the grand­fa­ther picks Paikea up from school on his bicycle.
Fig. 2: This close-up shows Paikea hold­ing on to Koro’s whale-tooth necklace.

Nei­ther the motor nor the boat, as Fox sug­gests (Fox 155), sym­bol­izes the tribe in this scene. Rather, it is the bro­ken rope, as Koro makes clear when answer­ing Pai’s ques­tions about the ancient whale rider’s sig­nif­i­cance for Whangara (Fig­ure 3). When the indi­vid­ual strings of the rope are tight togeth­er, the grand­fa­ther explains, the com­mu­ni­ty is strong. While Koro dis­ap­pears to find a new rope—a poten­tial state­ment on modernization’s bat­tle against tradition—Paikea fix­es the old, bro­ken rope, which allows her to start the motor. Koro’s angry reac­tion express­es his hos­til­i­ty towards his granddaughter’s tres­pass­ing into his own field of respon­si­bil­i­ty. This hos­til­i­ty has its ori­gin in the old leader’s rejec­tion of change, a rejec­tion that iron­i­cal­ly con­trasts with his search for a new rope when Paikea proves that the old one is mend­able. Koro does not over­come his aver­sion to impend­ing change until his granddaughter’s life is at stake, after she rides a whale and suc­ceeds in res­cu­ing a beached pod that way. When Koro final­ly admits to being a “fledg­ling new to flight,” this metaphor relates to said change, rather than to a dis­re­spect of hier­ar­chy, as Fox would have it (158). When Koro speaks thus in the hos­pi­tal room, Paikea is still in a coma, and nobody can hear him. In a way, he com­forts him­self, show­ing that he can accept the unavoid­able tran­si­tion and wel­come his suc­ces­sor even if she hap­pens to be female.

Fig. 3: This wood­en sculp­ture depicts the mytho­log­i­cal ances­tor Paikea, the Whale Rider.
Fig. 4: The grand­fa­ther wears the whale-tooth neck­lace dur­ing his prac­tice with the boys.

Dur­ing the scenes in which Paikea shares Koro’s bicy­cle, she often holds on to his whale tooth neck­lace (Fig­ures 2 and 4). This ges­ture express­es her affin­i­ty as much as it fore­shad­ows their prox­im­i­ty in lin­eage. Although the grand­fa­ther refus­es to teach the girl tra­di­tion­al skills, such as how to use a taia­ha in Māori mar­tial art, his lega­cy as leader seems to trans­fer to his grand­daugh­ter via the whale tooth, at least metaphor­i­cal­ly. When Paikea’s vis­it­ing father invites her to join him abroad, Paikea delays the depar­ture by request­ing an extra round on Koro’s bicy­cle. This scene marks the last time Koro grants her the priv­i­lege of shar­ing his bicy­cle. When Pai, find­ing her bond with the whales dur­ing the air­port ride, decides not to leave with her father after all, Koro no longer picks her up from school. A bicy­cle next appears in the film when Paikea rides on her own. Behind Koro’s back, she has pur­sued her phys­i­cal edu­ca­tion, which shows when she pass­es the school bus by her­self, ped­alling at record speed (Fig­ure 6). It also shows when she dives for the whale tooth neck­lace Koro threw into the sea dur­ing a final test for the boys, among whom he hopes to find the next leader. Pai recov­ers this neck­lace in Koro’s absence (Fig­ure 5). Her inde­pen­dence at rid­ing the bicy­cle fore­shad­ows her own final test, the rid­ing of a whale. While not a major change to Ihimaera’s sto­ry­line, the use of the bicy­cle sym­bol in the film grants Caro the nod to De Sica, as well as to Susan B. Antho­ny. While the impor­tance of the bicy­cle as sym­bol is implic­it in Whale Rid­er, the fol­low­ing sec­tion dis­cuss­es an exam­ple of a film in which the basic trans­porta­tion tool takes cen­tre stage.

Fig. 5: In order to find his suc­ces­sor among the boys he has trained, Koro asks them to dive for his whale-tooth neck­lace. Paikea is the one to retrieve it in Koro’s absence.
Fig. 6: On her own, Paikea rides the bicy­cle fast enough to pass the school bus.

Bicycle Obsession in Wadjda

Still the bicy­cle float­ed in place on the oth­er side of the fence, not mov­ing, not ris­ing or falling, just hov­er­ing. It seemed to be poised at the point where wood­en boards met sky, wait­ing, ready for a ride. 
For what felt like for­ev­er, Wad­j­da con­tin­ued to stare. With­out look­ing down, she dropped her arm and slid her black stone into her pock­et. And still her eyes fol­lowed the bicy­cle. It was like a vision, a dream. The most beau­ti­ful dream she’d ever had. (Al Man­sour 59-60)

Haifaa Al Mansour’s Wad­j­da pre­miered in 2012, a decade after Whale Rid­er, at the Venice Film Fes­ti­val. It revolves around the bicy­cle with which the pro­tag­o­nist Wad­j­da becomes obsessed ear­ly on in the sto­ry. Al Man­sour has revealed her indebt­ed­ness to De Sica (Gar­cia 37).3 Like Whale Rid­er, Wad­j­da has been attacked on the grounds of its inter­na­tion­al suc­cess. Although Al Man­sour did grow up in the cul­ture por­trayed in her film (unlike Caro), she col­lab­o­rat­ed with an inter­na­tion­al crew and worked in par­tic­u­lar with Ger­man pro­duc­ers (like Caro). Tariq Al Hay­dar claims that “the polit­i­cal state­ment the film makes is spe­cious” (Al Hay­dar). His polemic con­demns the fact that Wadjda’s bicy­cle has the nation­al colour of the King­dom of Sau­di Ara­bia. In a Cineaste inter­view, Al Man­sour explains the spe­cif­ic role green plays in her coun­try by stat­ing that for Saud­is, “heav­en is green, not blue” (Gar­cia). Yet, oth­er col­ors play impor­tant roles through­out the movie, such as those of dif­fer­ent local foot­ball clubs. Wad­j­da uses string in those col­ors to pro­duce bracelets to sell in her attempt to raise mon­ey for the bicy­cle pur­chase. In the same Cineaste inter­view Maria Gar­cia dis­cuss­es blue nail pol­ish as a sym­bol of indi­vid­u­al­i­ty. The same applies to Wadjda’s pur­ple shoelace, with pur­ple, at the lat­est since Alice Walker’s The Col­or Pur­ple, often seen in asso­ci­a­tion with women’s rights move­ments. The socio-eco­nom­ic con­di­tions in De Sica’s post-World-War-II Ital­ian film stand in stark con­trast with those in Al Mansour’s con­tem­po­rary Sau­di Ara­bia. Although Wadjda’s fam­i­ly is not wealthy, they suf­fer nei­ther from unem­ploy­ment nor pover­ty. In this con­text, Caro’s Whangara par­al­lels De Sica’s Rome, though the for­mer is a very small com­mu­ni­ty com­pared to the lat­ter large city. Like Rome, Riyadh is a large city, but most of Al Mansour’s film takes place in Wadjda’s imme­di­ate neigh­bour­hood, which com­pares well in size with the small com­mu­ni­ty in Caro’s film. Both films do, how­ev­er, have much to do with parental affini­ties and youth­ful deci­sions, which pro­vides the main con­nec­tion to Bicy­cle Thieves.

Where­as the sym­bol­ic mean­ing of the bicy­cle Koro shares with Paikea is implic­it in Whale Rid­er, Wadjda’s desire to own one spe­cif­ic bicy­cle accounts for most of the plot devel­op­ment in Al Mansour’s film. Roy Armes’s dis­cus­sion of Wad­j­da has the char­ac­ter of a post scrip­tum at the end of New Voic­es in Arab Cin­e­ma (2015), but he does not fail to empha­size the “mag­i­cal sight” (Armes 303) that insti­gates Wadjda’s obses­sion when she first encoun­ters this bicy­cle. As it is trans­port­ed on top of a car, it seems to be fly­ing along the wall that con­ceals the mov­ing vehi­cle (Fig­ure 7). Wadjda’s imme­di­ate chase estab­lish­es the encounter as love at first sight (Fig­ure 8). She fol­lows the car all the way to the small shop (Fig­ure 9) whose ven­dor gives in to her beg­ging to hold on to this bicy­cle until she saves enough mon­ey to buy it (Fig­ure 10). This scene intro­duces the one spe­cial, inci­den­tal­ly green, bicy­cle whose pos­ses­sion Wad­j­da pur­sues with the same deter­mi­na­tion that guides Paikea’s strug­gle to assert her­self against her grand­fa­ther. The ini­tial wish to own a bicy­cle, how­ev­er, orig­i­nates in Wadjda’s friend­ship with her neigh­bour Abdul­lah (Fig­ures 11 and 12).

Fig. 7: On her way home from school, Wad­j­da spots the green bicy­cle attached to the roof of a mov­ing vehicle.
Fig. 8: The low angle empha­sizes Wadjda’s fas­ci­na­tion with this par­tic­u­lar bicycle.

After a pre-cred­its pro­logue inside her school estab­lish­es that Wad­j­da stands out among her peers, two sub­se­quent scenes intro­duce her home and the con­flict she faces there between her par­ents. In the first scene, she helps her moth­er to get ready for work and defends her against the dri­ver, who com­plains about the reg­u­lar delay. As Wad­j­da leaves the house to walk to school in the sec­ond scene, her father arrives wear­ing a car mechan­ic out­fit. There are no fur­ther details about the father’s occu­pa­tion through­out the film, as he is not present very often. The home, how­ev­er, sug­gests that both par­ents have mod­est incomes. Hap­py to see her father, Wad­j­da indi­cates that he had not vis­it­ed their house for an entire week. Lat­er, view­ers find out that Wadjda’s father is look­ing for a sec­ond wife, since her moth­er can no longer bear chil­dren. As she parts with her father, Wad­j­da encoun­ters her friend Abdul­lah, who rides his bike to school with a group of oth­er boys. Abdullah’s teas­ing results in Wadjda’s idea that she should chal­lenge him in a race, and this idea prompts her desire to pos­sess a bicycle.

Fig. 9: A toy shop in Wadjda’s neigh­bor­hood offers the bicy­cle she dis­cov­ered on her way from school.
Fig. 10: Wad­j­da suc­ceeds in strik­ing a deal with the vendor.

Wadjda’s bicy­cle fix­a­tion meets hos­til­i­ty from two adult women, her moth­er and her school prin­ci­pal. Although Abdul­lah at first also observes that girls don’t ride bicy­cles, he then lends Wad­j­da his own bicy­cle to prac­tice on the roof of her build­ing (Fig­ure 11). See­ing how her skills improve and that she grows fond of the activ­i­ty, he gives her a hel­met (Fig­ure 12). This thought­ful gift implies the boy’s belief in a future for his friend’s ambi­tion. It also asserts the tra­di­tion­al role of the male as pro­tec­tor, since Abdul­lah him­self rides with­out hel­met. When Wad­j­da, in the end, wins the Quran recita­tion com­pe­ti­tion, but los­es the mon­ey meant to buy her the desired bicy­cle, Abdul­lah offers to let her have his instead. Wad­j­da rejects the offer, say­ing that they both need bicy­cles for the pro­ject­ed race. This idea returns to this article’s intro­duc­to­ry ref­er­ence to Godard, with­out the com­pet­i­tive angle. Godard uses the metaphor of two sep­a­rate bicy­cles to empha­sise the nature of his col­lab­o­ra­tion with Anne-Marie Miéville, insin­u­at­ing that they work togeth­er inde­pen­dent­ly. Wad­j­da wants her own bicy­cle to par­tic­i­pate in an activ­i­ty with her friend that also grants each their inde­pen­dence. Until the end of the film, Abdul­lah and, in a way, the ven­dor, are the only char­ac­ters sup­port­ive of Wadjda’s plan.

Fig. 11: Abdul­lah lends Wad­j­da his bicy­cle to prac­tice on the roof.
Fig. 12: Abdullah’s gift of the hel­met express­es his belief in her goal to own a bicy­cle, but also con­firms the stereo­type of the male protector.

Ms. Hes­sa, the rigid and poten­tial­ly hyp­o­crit­i­cal school prin­ci­pal, favours Wad­j­da upon her progress with com­pe­ti­tion prepa­ra­tions. She with­holds, how­ev­er, the prize mon­ey once Wad­j­da explains her antic­i­pat­ed use for it. “Bikes are not for girls,” Ms. Hes­sa echoes the mother’s judg­ment. Wad­j­da brings up her plan to buy a bicy­cle sev­er­al times with her moth­er, main­ly as she helps her in the kitchen. Once, dur­ing prepa­ra­tions for the Morn­ing Prayer, the moth­er refers to a ruse women encoun­tered in Europe and North Amer­i­ca dur­ing the time Susan B. Antho­ny made the dec­la­ra­tion quot­ed in the open­ing sen­tence of the present study. This ruse pre­dict­ed a bicycle’s threat to women’s repro­duc­tive organs (Withers/Shea 43).

Once the father fol­lows through with his plan to mar­ry a sec­ond wife, Wadjda’s moth­er changes her mind and uses the mon­ey intend­ed for a fan­cy dress to woo her hus­band on Wadjda’s dream. The clos­ing scene shows Wadjda’s race with Abdul­lah. The final shot, as Ciecko sug­gests, shows “the girl look­ing out toward an off-screen hori­zon, sug­gest­ing poten­tial open­ness” (Ciecko 241; Fig­ure 13). An extreme long shot lead­ing up to this future out­look empha­sizes the dis­tance Wad­j­da is able to achieve because of the new­ly gained mobil­i­ty (Fig­ure 14). The open­ness of this scene con­trasts with women’s con­fine­ment in their pri­vate spheres, for exam­ple inside the home or the school. Wadjda’s moth­er refus­es to work, like her friend, at a near­by hos­pi­tal because the job would place her in what she con­sid­ers an off-lim­it pub­lic sphere. The school prin­ci­pal asks her stu­dents to move indoors when they are in dan­ger to be seen by work­ers on a neigh­bour­ing roof. Al Man­sour her­self had to work from with­in a van dur­ing the film­ing on loca­tion (Ciecko 240). The on-loca­tion set­tings, along with non-pro­fes­sion­al leads, under­line both films’ debt to Bicy­cle Thieves.

Fig. 13: The film ends with Wad­j­da look­ing off-screen to wel­come dis­cov­er­ies her new mobil­i­ty affords.
Fig. 14: This extreme long shot under­lines Wadjda’s final achieve­ment to own a bicy­cle and to chal­lenge her friend to the antic­i­pat­ed race.

On-loca­tion film­ing depends on film­ing per­mits in the Gulf coun­tries. It thus stip­u­lates an accep­tance of giv­en pro­duc­tion codes. The deci­sion to film on loca­tion, then, empha­sizes Al Mansour’s aim to touch view­ers “on a very basic lev­el” (Gar­cia). The film nev­er pre­tend­ed to func­tion as “rev­o­lu­tion­ary art,” which Al Hay­dar mis­tak­en­ly pre­sup­pos­es. Stud­ied care­ful­ly, how­ev­er, Wad­j­da does, as Dale Hud­son and Patri­cia Zim­mer­mann put it, “nego­ti­ate the com­plex­i­ties of indi­rect dis­sent” (Hudson/Zimmermann 157). It also con­tributes to the slow­ly grow­ing cat­e­go­ry of acces­si­ble movies made by women. In “The Con­fi­dence Game,” Ruby Rich writes that “the mys­te­ri­ous absence of women in the direc­to­r­i­al ranks con­tin­ues to this day” (Rich 160). Direc­tors such as Caro and Al Man­sour may inspire more women film­mak­ers to change this sit­u­a­tion, much like their pro­tag­o­nists assert their posi­tions in the respec­tive films.

The Liberating Effect of Bicycles

Das Leben ist wie ein Fahrrad. Man muss sich vor­wärts bewe­gen, um das Gle­ichgewicht nicht zu ver­lieren. (Ein­stein)4

De Sica’s main char­ac­ter in Bicy­cle Thieves depends on a bicy­cle to main­tain his job. His wife makes an enor­mous sac­ri­fice that allows him to pur­chase the essen­tial tool of trans­porta­tion in the post-World-War-II Ital­ian reces­sion. Her sac­ri­fice dur­ing the pre­vail­ing and dire eco­nom­ic con­di­tions of the moment redou­bles the pain of the trag­ic theft of the bicy­cle dur­ing his first day on the job. Bicy­cle Thieves thus presents an extreme exam­ple of an on-screen bicy­cle whose pos­ses­sion lit­er­al­ly lib­er­ates a fam­i­ly from their pover­ty, even if that lib­er­a­tion lasts for less than a day. In con­trast, Caro’s Whale Rid­er pays no atten­tion to the pos­ses­sion of a bicy­cle. Grand­fa­ther Koro’s bicy­cle is not even a cen­tral prop, yet its use makes a cru­cial state­ment about Paikea’s accep­tance of her own poten­tial. While the shared bicy­cle rides sig­nal the bond between Koro and his grand­daugh­ter (Fig­ure 1) and draw the viewer’s atten­tion to the land­scape the pair tra­vers­es, Paikea’s inde­pen­dent ride final­ly reveals her ambi­tion. Not only does she ride on her own the last time the bicy­cle appears in Whale Rid­er, Paikea ped­dles fast enough in this scene to pass the school bus (Fig­ure 6).

Unlike Whale Rid­er, Al Mansour’s Wad­j­da hear­kens back at the ques­tion of pos­ses­sion pur­sued in Bicy­cle Thieves, but instead of the pat­tern of gain and loss cre­at­ed by De Sica, Wad­j­da builds up to the long-desired pur­chase that seals the semi-hap­py end of the sto­ry. While the bicy­cle pro­vokes the son to wit­ness the father’s humil­i­a­tion in Bicy­cle Thieves, it strength­ens the ties between daugh­ter and moth­er in Wad­j­da. Both Whale Rid­er and Wad­j­da share the neo­re­al­ist char­ac­ter­is­tics of on-loca­tion film­ing and reliance on non­pro­fes­sion­al actors. Addi­tion­al­ly, Whale Rid­er includes ele­ments of mag­ic real­ism as a result of its source in Ihimaera’s nov­el. Both Caro and Al Man­sour employ the bicy­cle as a sym­bol for lib­er­a­tion. It sym­bol­izes Paikea’s as well as Wadjda’s strug­gle to assert them­selves in their trib­al com­mu­ni­ties, Māori and Sau­di respec­tive­ly. It may fur­ther sym­bol­ize the asser­tion of two women film­mak­ers in a glob­al indus­try. The two films dis­cussed here mark begin­nings of Caro’s as well as Al Mansour’s careers. Both films are, to use Ciecko’s words, “cul­tur­al­ly spe­cif­ic and glob­al­ly appeal­ing” (Ciecko 241) cin­e­mat­ic arte­facts. They intro­duced their direc­tors into a canon of world cin­e­ma, even if sub­se­quent films did not con­sis­tent­ly mea­sure up to this ear­ly achievement.

The work of both Caro and Al Man­sour could pro­vide mate­r­i­al for future books such as White’s Women’s Cin­e­ma, World Cin­e­ma. White under­lines the impor­tance of a glob­al net­work for women film­mak­ers (White 4). Exam­in­ing Kathryn Bigelow’s suc­cess along­side direc­to­r­i­al work by women in inde­pen­dent indus­tries across the globe, White out­lines a hope­ful devel­op­ment dur­ing the cur­rent cen­tu­ry. “Women film­mak­ers from all over,” she states, “are nav­i­gat­ing insti­tu­tion­al pol­i­tics and mak­ing films that have a chance to trav­el and be seen” (4-5). Such expo­sure is cru­cial for films such as Whale Rid­er and Wad­j­da to par­tic­i­pate in the tran­scul­tur­al sup­port net­work in ques­tion. Pos­i­tive role mod­els may help emerg­ing women film­mak­ers out of the “con­fi­dence game” trap referred to by Rich. Much like the mother’s move to sol­i­dar­i­ty in the clo­sure of Wad­j­da allows for her daughter’s suc­cess, a large num­ber of female pre­de­ces­sors have con­tributed to con­di­tions that are more favourable for younger women film­mak­ers today. White lists impor­tant exam­ples, such as Tunisian Moufi­da Tlatli and Alger­ian Yam­i­na Ben­guigui, who took on roles in pub­lic pol­i­tics in addi­tion to their cre­ative endeav­ours (5).

Al Man­sour, like­wise, joined Sau­di Arabia’s new board of the Gen­er­al Author­i­ty for Cul­ture, and she returned to a Sau­di set­ting in her new film The Per­fect Can­di­date. Since Wad­j­da, Al Man­sour direct­ed the his­tor­i­cal fic­tion film Mary Shel­ley, “with con­fi­dence if lit­tle rec­og­niz­able pres­ence” (White, “Gen­der Mat­ters”), and the Net­flix adap­ta­tion of Trisha R. Thomas’ Nap­pi­ly Ever After (2018). With her pre­miere of The Per­fect Can­di­date, the sto­ry of a young female Sau­di physi­cian, she was one of only two com­pet­ing women film­mak­ers in the 2019 Venice Fes­ti­val, a sign that the so-called cel­lu­loid ceil­ing is still a seri­ous obsta­cle, and that the 50:50 by 2020 fes­ti­val pledge is not equal­ly suc­cess­ful every­where. This pledge is not lim­it­ed to the posi­tion of film direc­tor, but con­cerns many oth­er activ­i­ties per­tain­ing to the pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion of movies.

The absence of female direc­tors in the Venice com­pe­ti­tion does not relate to a lack of pro­duc­tion, as Kate Erb­land empha­sizes in “Venice Film Festival’s Women Direc­tor Prob­lem: Gen­der Par­i­ty Shouldn’t Be That Hard.” The Toron­to Fes­ti­val, which takes place short­ly after the event in Venice, pro­vides the strongest con­trast. A few years ago, White already com­mend­ed the Cana­di­an plat­form (“Gen­der Mat­ters”). Dur­ing the year White pub­lished the respec­tive essay, Al Man­sour par­tic­i­pat­ed at TIFF with Mary Shel­ley. Ear­li­er that year, Caro’s adap­ta­tion of Diane Ackerman’s Zookeeper’s Wife won a Heart­land film award. For both Caro and Al Man­sour, the projects fol­low­ing the two films stud­ied here nev­er achieved a com­pa­ra­ble suc­cess. They have, nev­er­the­less, pro­vid­ed each of the two women film­mak­ers with unique oppor­tu­ni­ties to dis­cov­er mate­r­i­al, exper­i­ment with diverse film­ing con­di­tions, explore new col­lab­o­ra­tions, and con­tin­ue to be part of what has come to be called a “cine­fem­i­nist” movement.

The release of Whale Rid­er and Wad­j­da occurred in two very dif­fer­ent cul­tur­al con­texts, Māori and Sau­di respec­tive­ly. The present com­par­a­tive study has shown that view­ing the two films along­side each oth­er makes clear the sym­bol­ic use of bicy­cles as vehi­cles for lib­er­a­tion. The aim here has been to con­tribute to the kind of tran­scul­tur­al net­work that Patri­cia White iden­ti­fies as vital to the improve­ment of con­di­tions for women film­mak­ers world­wide. Jere­my With­ers and Daniel P. Shea point out that a bicycle’s “asso­ci­a­tion with free­dom, mobil­i­ty, and the lib­er­at­ing promise of moder­ni­ty was secured dur­ing its rise to mass pop­u­lar­i­ty fol­low­ing the appear­ance of the safe­ty bicy­cle” (Withers/Shea 2). This basic tool of trans­porta­tion is, how­ev­er, not equal­ly acces­si­ble to every­one across the globe, as cycling women, for exam­ple in Pak­istan (Imti­az), tes­ti­fy. A com­par­a­tive study of the two 21st-cen­tu­ry fea­tures by women film­mak­ers gives Whale Rid­er and Wad­j­da a fem­i­nist per­spec­tive on the neo­re­al­ist tra­di­tion estab­lished by De Sica’s Bicy­cle Thieves, even if the socio-eco­nom­ic cir­cum­stances in the spe­cif­ic set­tings are very different.

Moth­er and daugh­ter are close yet divid­ed over indi­vid­ual goals in Haifaa Al Mansour’s film. In the end, the moth­er gives Wad­j­da the desired bicy­cle despite her ini­tial oppo­si­tion to the plan. Niki Caro’s por­trait of the con­flict between grand­fa­ther and grand­daugh­ter adds a gen­er­a­tion lay­er to the theme of parental choic­es. Both movies mas­ter on-loca­tion film­ing, Caro’s in Whangara, Al Mansour’s in Riyadh, though the latter’s focus on a sub­ur­ban neigh­bour­hood resem­bles the former’s spa­tial con­fine­ment. Both films work with non-pro­fes­sion­als to tell sto­ries of strong girl char­ac­ters who assert them­selves in their respec­tive trib­al com­mu­ni­ties, the pres­sures of which are more pro­nounced in the Māori set­ting. The fact that bicy­cles sym­bol­ize this process of a girl’s com­ing of age in each of the two films leads to a read­ing of this lib­er­at­ing sym­bol on a meta-lev­el in a glob­al film­mak­ing com­mu­ni­ty. The more and the more diverse role mod­els there are in var­i­ous indus­tries across the world, the eas­i­er it will become for women to opt for a career as filmmaker.

Works Cited

Al Hay­dar, Tariq. “Haifaa Al Mansour’s Wad­j­da: Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Art or Pro-State Pro­pa­gan­da?” Jadaliyya, 13 Jan­u­ary, 2014, Accessed on 17 May 2019.

Al-Man­sour, Haifaa, direc­tor. Wad­j­da. Razor Film Pro­duk­tion, 2012.

———-. The Green Bicy­cle. Dial Books, 2015.

———-, direc­tor. Mary Shel­ley. Han­Way Films/BFI, 2017.

———-, direc­tor. Nap­pi­ly Ever After. Net­flix, 2018.

———-, direc­tor. The Per­fect Can­di­date. Razor Film Pro­duk­tion, 2019.

Arms, Roy. New Voic­es in Arab Cin­e­ma. Indi­ana UP, 2015.

Caro, Niki, direc­tor. Whale Rid­er. South Pacif­ic Pic­tures, 2002.

———-, direc­tor. North Coun­try. Par­tic­i­pant Pro­duc­tions, 2005.

———-, direc­tor. The Zookeeper’s Wife. Scion Films, 2017.

Ciecko, Anne. “Bicy­cle Bor­row­ers after Neo­re­al­ism: Glob­al Nou-velo Cin­e­ma.” Cul­ture on Two Wheels: The Bicy­cle in Lit­er­a­ture and Film, edit­ed by Jere­my With­ers and Daniel P. Shea, U of Nebras­ka P, 2016, pp. 228-245.

Dar­d­enne, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dar­d­enne, direc­tors. The Kid with a Bike. Les Films du Fleuve, 2011.

De Sica, Vit­to­rio, direc­tor. Bicy­cle Thieves. Pro­duzioni De Sica, 1948.

Eck­stein, Lars. “Think Local Sell Glob­al: Mag­ic Real­ism, The Whale Rid­er, and the Mar­ket.” Com­mod­i­fy­ing (Post)Colonialism: Oth­er­ing, Reifi­ca­tion, Com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion and the New Lit­er­a­tures and Cul­tures in Eng­lish, edit­ed by Rain­er Emig and Oliv­er Lind­ner, Brill, 2010, pp. 93-107.

Emig, Rain­er and Oliv­er Lind­ner, edi­tors. Com­mod­i­fy­ing (Post)Colonialism: Oth­er­ing, Reifi­ca­tion, Com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion and the New Lit­er­a­tures and Cul­tures in Eng­lish. Brill, 2010.

Erb­land, Kate. “Venice Film Festival’s Women Direc­tor Prob­lem: Gen­der Par­i­ty Shouldn’t Be This Hard.” Indiewire, 25 July, 2019, https://​www​.indiewire​.com/​2​0​1​9​/​0​7​/​v​e​n​i​c​e​-​f​i​l​m​-​f​e​s​t​i​v​a​l​-​2​0​1​9​-​f​e​m​a​l​e​-​d​i​r​e​c​t​o​r​s​-​1​2​0​2​1​6​0​9​9​0​/​?​f​b​c​l​i​d​=​I​w​A​R​0​f​z​X​C​t​I​U​0​f​b​r​I​T​B​S​p​e​s​E​B​_​k​g​P​e​6​l​5​H​w​y​U​v​h​Y​o​X​k​W​f​f​d​-​l​L​K​2​x​u​L​z​B​O​x1k. Accessed on 30 August 2019.

Fox, Alis­tair. Com­ing-Of-Age Cin­e­ma in New Zealand: Genre, Gen­der, and Adap­ta­tion. Edin­burgh UP, 2019 [2017].

Gar­cia, Maria. “A Woman’s Voice Is Her Naked­ness: An Inter­view with Haifaa Al Man­sour.” Cineaste, Fall 2013, pp. 34-37.

Hud­son, Dale, and Patri­cia R. Zim­mer­mann. Think­ing through Dig­i­tal Media: Transna­tion­al Envi­ron­ments and Loca­tive Places. Pal­grave, 2015.

Ihi­maera, Witi. Whale Rid­er. Har­court, 2003 [1987].

Imti­az, Saba, “’Peo­ple think we’re from anoth­er plan­et’: Meet Karachi’s Female Cyclists.” The Guardian, 26 June 2019, https://​www​.the​guardian​.com/​c​i​t​i​e​s​/​2​0​1​9​/​j​u​n​/​2​6​/​p​e​o​p​l​e​-​t​h​i​n​k​-​w​e​r​e​-​f​r​o​m​-​a​n​o​t​h​e​r​-​p​l​a​n​e​t​-​m​e​e​t​-​k​a​r​a​c​h​i​s​-​f​e​m​a​l​e​-​c​y​c​l​i​sts. Accessed on 3 Novem­ber 2019.

Joseph, Clara A. B. and Janet Wil­son, edi­tors. Glob­al Fis­sures: Post­colo­nial Fusions. Rodopi, 2006.

Kennedy, Melis­sa. Strid­ing Both Worlds: Witi Ihi­maera and New Zealand’s Lit­er­ary Tra­di­tions. Rodopi, 2011.

Mack­in­non, Dou­glas, direc­tor. The Fly­ing Scots­man. Verve Pic­tures, 2006.

Pren­tice, Chris. “Rid­ing the Whale? Post­colo­nial­ism and Glob­al­iza­tion in Whale Rid­er.” Glob­al Fis­sures: Post­colo­nial Fusions, edit­ed by Clara A. B. Joseph and Janet Wil­son, Rodopi, 2006, pp. 247-267.

Pro­jan­sky, Sarah. “Gen­der, Race, Fem­i­nism, and the Inter­na­tion­al Girl Hero.” Youth Cul­ture in Glob­al Cin­e­ma, edit­ed by Tim­o­thy Shary and Alexan­dra Seibel, U of Texas P, 2007, pp. 189-206.

Raab, Alon. “Wheels of Fire: Writ­ers on Bicy­cles.” World Lit­er­a­ture Today, vol. 86, no. 5, 2012, pp. 22-31.

Rich, B. Ruby. “The Con­fi­dence Game.” Cam­era Obscu­ra, vol. 82, no. 1, 2013, pp. 157-165.

Schenkel, Elmar. Vom Rausch der Reise. Futu­rum, 2012.

Shary, Tim­o­thy and Alexan­dra Seibel, edi­tors. Youth Cul­ture in Glob­al Cin­e­ma. U of Texas P, 2007.

White, Jer­ry. Two Bicy­cles: The Work of Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville. Wil­frid Lau­ri­er UP, 2013.

White, Patri­cia. Women’s Cin­e­ma, World Cin­e­ma: Pro­ject­ing Con­tem­po­rary Fem­i­nisms. Duke UP, 2015.

———-. “Gen­der Mat­ters at the Toron­to Inter­na­tion­al Film Fes­ti­val.” Los Ange­les Review of Books, 12 Octo­ber, 2017, https://​lare​viewof​books​.org/​a​r​t​i​c​l​e​/​g​e​n​d​e​r​-​m​a​t​t​e​r​s​-​a​t​-​t​h​e​-​t​o​r​o​n​t​o​-​i​n​t​e​r​n​a​t​i​o​n​a​l​-​f​i​l​m​-​f​e​s​t​i​v​al/. Accessed on 30 August 2019.

With­ers, Jere­my and Daniel P. Shea, edi­tors. Cul­ture on Two Wheels: The Bicy­cle in Lit­er­a­ture and Film. U of Nebras­ka P, 2016.

Yates, Peter, direc­tor. Break­ing Away. Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry Fox, 1979. DVD.

Image Credits

Fig­ures 1-6: screen­shots from Whale Rid­er

Fig­ures 7-14: screen­shots from Wad­j­da


  1. Both Caro and Al Man­sour were sched­uled to par­tic­i­pate in the recent Pow­er of Inclu­sion Sum­mit in New Zealand, accord­ing to the blog Women and Hol­ly­wood (https://​wom​e​nand​hol​ly​wood​.com/​n​i​k​i​-​c​a​r​o​-​h​a​i​f​a​a​-​a​l​-​m​a​n​s​o​u​r​-​a​n​d​-​m​o​r​e​-​t​o​-​a​t​t​e​n​d​-​n​e​w​-​z​e​a​l​a​n​d​s​-​p​o​w​e​r​-​o​f​-​i​n​c​l​u​s​i​o​n​-​s​u​m​m​it/), though only Caro seems to have been present in the end.↩︎

  2. Wom​e​nand​hol​ly​wood​.com pro­vides shock­ing sta­tis­tics of women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Hol­ly­wood indus­try. The con­tro­ver­sy over Natal­ie Portman’s cape at the 2020 Acad­e­my Awards cer­e­mo­ny gives addi­tion­al insight into cur­rent posi­tions regard­ing this mat­ter.↩︎

  3. See for instance, Anne Ciecko’s study of the film’s reliance on Ital­ian neo­re­al­ism in “Bicy­cle Bor­row­ers after Neo­re­al­ism: Glob­al Nou-velo Cin­e­ma.”↩︎

  4. See Elmar Schenkel’s Vom Rausch der Reise (On the ecsta­sy of trav­el; 41): “Life is like a bicy­cle. One needs to move for­ward to not lose one’s bal­ance.”↩︎