As an American Serviceman who has been to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia several times, I could relate heavily to some of the feelings about Saudi Arabia that the foreign characters described in Death of A Princess. This is especially true of the British contractor who took pictures of the execution. He described his Saudi experience with the searing heat, the boredom, no alcohol drinks, going to and from the "crummy" hotel and the pool repeatedly, and not talking to any women the whole time he was there. This is almost exactly what I remember about being there.
Although I never witnessed any executions or had any conflict with the Saudi's I highly emphasize to anyone that will listen that Saudi Arabia is not a place for "infidels" to visit and impart judgement on their people or values. Saudi Arabia is simply caught in the middle of their own culture and the inevitable influence of western culture. It is this culture clash that causes so much confusion and misunderstanding. In my opinion these cultures are simply a world apart and it's best not to judge lest be judged.
Thank you so much for rebroadcasting this movie. In 1980, my local PBS station in Knoxville, TN gave in to pressure and did not braodcast it. I have searched for it ever since - even wrote to David Fanning. The movie had so completely disappeared that it was creepy.
Why has Death of a Princess been so impossible to find? Even today, questions remain about the movie. What cleared the way for a rebroadcast of a movie so sheltered and secretive? Frontline's Web site says we cannot watch it streaming because they don't have the rights. Who has the rights? Why can't individuals purchase a copy? Why only one rebroadcast? Why is this movie still held so tightly?
I hope you will rebroadcast it a second time for those who missed it. It is an important piece of history that everyone should see.
FRONTLINE's editors respond:
"Death of a Princess" was a 1980 coproduction with a British television company. At that time, it was broadcast in the WGBH "WORLD" documentary series (FRONTLINE did not come on the air until 1983) and WGBH only obtained the right to broadcast "Princess" on television and distribute it to schools in the United States.
In rebroadcasting it in 2005 on FRONTLINE, WGBH is exercising the rights it had under the 1980 original agreement. WGBH did not have home video distribution then, nor Internet streaming rights (preInternet) and to obtain them now would be a difficult and costly matter. Since the program was unusual for a documentary series, in that it was a docudrama, step-up payments to actors also would be necessary. Your local public television station has the right to rebroadcast the program again if it chooses to do so, and you have the right to record it for your personal use.
I found your docu-drama on "Death of a Princes" very interesting and informative. While I have never heard of the story before this it provided a small window of insight into a world that I do not know. While it is hard for someone like me (early 30's american male) to understand and follow the reasonings behind Islam it does bring up questions of how tradition effects people as a whole. Knowing nothing about Islam it has my interest too educate myself further into what Islam is really about. In today's society with all of the controversy over al-queda and the talaiban in Afghanistan and other biased news, I have come to the simple and yet uneducated deduction that religion as a whole is afraid of women. I wonder why that is?
kansas city, Mo
I want to point out that Saudi Arabia and its customs do not represent the rest of the Arab world. What happened to the princess was in no way the proper application of Islamic law or sunni principles. If the women are oppressed in that country, it is the result of cultural and tribal deviance. In Islam, women are free to pursue an education, work, vote, own property, etc. In other words, I urge people not to make generalizations based on one film or on certain aspects/interpretations of Islamic society that the media chooses to convey.
Los Angeles, CA
FRONTLINE's editors respond:
The experts that FRONTLINE interviewed for the epilogue which follows this film make this same point. See the "Interviews" section elsewhere on this Web site.
I saw the film when it was first shown and reviewed it in a Canadian bi-weekly, Crescent International (June 1, 1980). I liked the film then and it withstood a second viewing well.
Here is a quote from my review: "The film is neither anti-Islam nor anti-Arab. On the contrary, it is quite sensitive and sympathetic. The prime evidence of that being its depiction of diversity, its willingness to see that the Arab/Islamic world is not monolithic. It is this last which is not acceptable to most of its detractors, for they would like to think that the Islamic world is totally homogenous in action and in belief, and that they themselves represent true Islam. And it is this same fact which is ignored by those who see in this film a confirmation of their prejudices against Islam and the Arabs."
I felt that this offered interesting perspectives into the Arabic culture that I hope will open more peoples minds. I have had female Muslim friends from different countries. It is just the same as with any other religion. It is the people/government who take it out of context. Sometimes it is the men, the women, or both. It just depends. I think that if you want to judge the culture or religion you must first sit down and judge your own from an realistic perspective with all the pros and cons. Thank you to PBS and Antony Thomas.
This was a very interesting film. I have never known such an un- biased work of non-fiction. One thing that stands out is why the Saudis felt so compelled to hide it or dispute the truth. Americans and most people must realize the world is a vast place filled with many different cultures dating back far before our own. Anyone who has felt the sting of betrayal understands the intense emotional disturbance of being abandoned and disrespected.
I do not condone this alleged cruelty but at the same time I hold a respect for other cultures and ways of life. If we as a country were to dissect our capital punishment cases I’m sure we could find many cases from injustices to sometimes-purposeful acts of cruelty. If anything I hope this story opens discussions on social oppression and gets everyone to take a look at their own selves and look to the future as an opportunity to learn from our mistakes which unfortunately is not often enough done.
The Death of a Princess is a film that has impacted me deeply as a teenager and when I saw it yesterday, it continues to have that same effect. I share with a lot of the viewers, the anger, and sadness surrounding this event. It has formed my negative views on Islamic society treatment of women for good or bad.
However, I realized that the event is much more to do with conforming/not conforming with the standards of a given society. In this case, Saudi Arabia. Death of a Princess symbolizes the eternal struggle of individuals for personal/political freedom.
Regardless of the cultural or religious traditions, any society that subjugates women and prevents their equal participation in cultural, political, economic, or social arenas is ethically and morally wrong.
Why is there even a debate about this fact today? The act of executing a woman because she exercised her right to BE a human being is the very definition of repression and evil.
I was very moved by this story. I only vaguely remember it from 1980. It almost makes me feel ashamed at the things I complain about as a woman in the United States.
I think it was a courageous event for this story to have been presented 25 years ago. I do not think it was a representation of the Muslim faith. It does appear that the grandfather was obviously as impetuous and misguided as the grandchild. I doubt his punishment made the point that he intended. Thank you for a thought provoking program. I admire Frontline very much.
I saw the movie Death of Princess and really I was shocked with what I've seen even though I was living in Jordan a neighbour country to Saudi Arabia I can't imagine that there are muslims who treating women like this ,
If they really understand the spirit of Islam they wouldnt accept this at all. believe me Islam respect the woman and gives her all rights exactly as the man .
New York, NY
The subjugation of women is a problem in some parts of the Middle East. It is only under those regimes that use a radical version of Islam to brutally keep themselves in power that this happens.
While recognizing this heinous mistreatment of women, it is important to remember that it is not this way in the entire Arab world, nor the entire Muslim world. Do not fall prey to negative stereotypes, but do not be blinded by positive ones either. Thank you for airing this important docu-drama.
I remember seeing the film Death of a Princess with my mother, when I was a teenager. My mother cried all through out the film. I asked her why this story affected her so, she told me that she had witness this barbaric act in Saudi. We lived in Saudi from 1976 to 1977. Since I was only 10 years old at the time, she didn't want me to know about it. My mother thought by not telling me about it, she was some how protecting me from the truths of the middles east and how they treat women. My mother so desparetly wanted to move back to the United States.
Seeing the film again, 25 years later as a mother of 4 Muslim girls, I want them to be aware of the social injustices that occured and still occur against Muslim women becasue of their gender. Thanks for showing the film and allowing me to realize how things haven't changed that much for women in the middle east.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
I lived in Riyadh in 1977-78, working as an RN at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital. It was a life changing experience for a western woman to actually move about in such a foreign environment, and totally different culture. I was very interested in all aspects of the culture, but soon was made aware that they were not interested in letting me see any of it. We did talk to one young woman who told us her story of being a young wife to an older man who already had several wives and many children. His first wife was very jealous of the younger one, and had threatened to come into the special care newborn nursery,where her baby was in our care, and kill it. The young wife told us that she had been threatened by her father if she did not marry the older man as her father wished.
Your program brought it all back so vividly to me, the people, the cars, the way they drove with all the horns honking, the building cranes, the markets, the girls being driven out into the desert, the camels, and every scene brought back memories of things that I had not thought about for many years. It was wonderful, though such a sad story of such a young girl who just wanted to be loved. Thank You for bringing it back.
Big Pine, CA
the main thing i took from this showing was that the faith of islam can be as perverted as christianty , and this saddened me greatly , and also proved that there is no one faith better than another ; if it involves people , its bound to get fouled up . i am pleased with the work of frontline and pbs , its the one source of news and information i feel can be trusted , thanks for being there .
halifax, nova scotia