By Dan Clendenin

Saudi Arabia Uncovered (2016) — Saudi Arabia

This one-hour documentary by PBS Frontline “uncovers” the perfect storm of problems that’s emerging in the petro-kingdom of Saudi Arabia by going “undercover.” Thanks to some very brave dissidents and activists like the women, videographers, and bloggers featured in the film, we have extensive secret videos that have been smuggled to the outside world — disturbing images of public lashings and beheadings, vice squads at the upscale shopping malls, deplorable prisons, and beggars panhandling on the streets of Riyadh. It is a culture rife with fear, secrecy, and repression, but also broad-ranging political ferment. The Sunni monarchy faces regional instability with a resurgent Shiite Iran and wars in Yemen and Syria. Bankruptcy looms due to plummeting oil prices. Minority Shiites and extreme Sunni Wahhabists inject religious fundamentalisms into the mix. The narrative also features experts like a CIA analyst, a British Ambassador, and the Saudi foreign ministry. These are troubling times for the US’s Middle East ally. I watched this film for free on the Frontline website. For another cinematic take on Saudi Arabia, see my review of the film Wadjda (2013), written and directed by Haifaa Al Mansour, which is the first feature length film by a Saudi woman, and which tackles gender roles head on.

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