In 2012 Haifaa al-Mansour became the first Saudi Arabian woman to direct and release a film, with the release of her feature film Wadjda. In a country that had no film theatres between 1983 and 2018, Mansour’s success as a female filmmaker is an incredible feat. She is definitely a radical, brilliant, creative female voice that overcame stifling and patriarchal environment. Of course, her privilege is undeniable. Born to poet Abdul Rahman Mansour, who first introduced her to films, she was able to have an education outside of Saudi Arabia completing university degrees in the US and Australia.
Being a student of comparative literature, it makes sense that she chose to portray the life of the author, Mary Shelley for her next film. Released in 2017 and starring Elle Fanning as the titular character, Mary Shelley is a story centered on the restrictions imposed on the female mind. Mary spends a life inspired by the great feminist mind of her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft who died just days after giving birth to her. An intelligent young woman with an untamable imagination, Shelley’s creativity and how it is consistently overshadowed by her husband and poet Percy Shelley, forms the driving force behind al-Mansour’s film.
Mary Shelley’s story is as important as the story of Frankenstein, the book she wrote but was not originally given authorial credit for. Published anonymously, with an introduction by Percy Bysshe Shelley, led many readers to believe that he wrote the novel. She published it anonymously since the nature of the book seemed too horrific and gruesome for a woman to have written. Her story highlights the many stories of the multitudes of women who have been discredited or forgotten through history. Although today we know who Mary Shelley is, her quest to visibilize herself within a history that wrote her off, is equally important to share. This film is important because it rewrites a past that could’ve well remained unknown. The story of being almost forgotten and emerging to make oneself known is a narrative that resonates with many women, across generations and privileges.