In super-conservative Saudi Arabia winds of change are blowing as “Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the day to day ruler, has over the past six years upended social and economic norms, as he tries to develop new industries and create jobs for his youthful population.”
At the vanguard of this change is a hit comedy series on Saudi TV, Jameel Jeddan. As the FT say, “In…Jameel Jeddan, a young woman falls into a coma after a road accident. She wakes up five years later to a changed country, where women are allowed to drive and the religious police who once roamed the kingdom’s cities have vanished.
What follows is a dark comedy that breaks the mould for how Saudi women are depicted on screen in the conservative kingdom. The show on Shahid, the content streaming arm of Saudi state broadcaster MBC, is the first in the country to be created, written and led by a woman, Sarah Taibah.
“Women are usually portrayed in Saudi content as the love interest or wife or mother, you don’t see them as a flawed protagonist or anti-hero,” said Taibah…
The show, whose six-episode run ended this month to critical acclaim, is not overtly political, but takes place against the backdrop of the reforms sweeping the conservative country.”
By Saudi standard, Jameel Jeddan is a radical TV show: “Jameel searches for her missing father over six episodes, as she adjusts to her new life back in high school. Along the way, she browbeats a boy into dating her, drugs a double-crossing friend at her wedding before burning down the ballroom and sends her tiresome stepbrother to hospital by pummelling him with a chair at the dinner table.”
Interestingly, whilst Prince Salman has clearly green flagged such a radical show, the content available on Netflix and Youtube meant that he didn’t have a choice – if the state owned broadcaster’s OTT platform Shahid is to stay relevant it has to keep up with Netflix and Youtube: ”Shows such as Jameel Jeddan were also crucial to the government-owned MBC’s drive to compete with Netflix for audiences in the region, said Mazen Hayek, a media consultant and former MBC spokesperson. Netflix has carried shows that could not find a home on Arabic broadcasters, including Takki, an edgy Saudi production that tackles issues such as poverty. It was originally uploaded to YouTube in 2012 because no channel would touch it.”

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