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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
For some women of colour, great aspirations and bold voices can feel like a burden, particularly when their families would rather not disrupt the status quo due to log kya kahenge — “what people might think,” practically a proverb in Urdu and Hindi. It can be especially difficult for such bold women to live according to age-old norms. But once an individual has found herself butting against one too many boundaries, she will inevitably fight back.
Such is the story of The Perfect Candidate, a Saudi Arabian drama that follows Maryam (a quietly captivating performance from Mila Al Zahrani), a young doctor who finds herself hitting one wall after another, entirely due to her gender. While she might be the best doctor working at the local clinic, she is still brutally berated by a male patient who demands she not even look him in the eyes — he prefers to be examined by inept male nurses, even as he screams in agonising pain.
Much like the viewer, Maryam is left frustrated. No matter how hard she works and how good she is at that work, her gender keeps getting in the way of her goals. And when she responds with anger, she is largely met with jeers. This is when Maryam hits her threshold. Out of pure convenience, she signs up to run for municipal council — doing so helps her get an appointment with a higher-up who might be able to help with her travel permit. But it occurs to her that this opportunity could be exactly the path she needs in order to free herself from needing a man’s permission to do, well, most things.
But as charming as Al Zahrani is, and as inspiring as Maryam is, The Perfect Candidate makes for a rather simplistic tale that follows all the traditional beats of a feminist’s journey with few surprises. Real change in a patriarchal society takes time and starts small, sometimes with just a single vote. If that sounds like a one-dimensional message, there is something more to it — it’s the victims who must often be the ones to fight, at first alone, and eventually with a chorus behind them.