Saudi Arabia's Public Cinema Ban Lifts With A Showing Of 'Black Panther'

Laverne Mann
April 23, 2018

Saudi Arabia hosted its first public film screening in over 35 years on Friday, two days after United States movie giant AMC unveiled the kingdom's debut theatre in Riyadh.

It has been an invitation only gala event that comes after the conservative Kingdom lifted the ban on cinemas a year ago as part of a far reaching liberalization drive being called as Enlightenment of the Kingdom, for which USA giant AMC Entertainment has been granted the first license to operate movie theaters. "Meanwhile, we want to provide people with a handsome show and really enjoy watching their own movies", Saudi Minister of Culture and Information Awwad Alawwad told the AP.

The screening comes just two days after the USA movie giant AMC unveiled the kingdom's debut theatre, but there's already a backlash against ticket prices. The kingdom held its first-ever fashion show last week with a women-only audience.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is seeking to balance unpopular subsidy cuts in an era of low oil prices with more entertainment options - despite opposition from religious hardliners.

Saudi Arabia has unveiled its first cinema in over 35 years with a private screening of the blockbuster Black Panther.

"Welcome to the era when movies can be watched by Saudis not in Bahrain, not in Dubai, not in London. but inside the kingdom", Aron said Wednesday at the launch of the theatre.

The kingdom shuttered cinemas in the early 1980s under pressure from Islamists as Saudi society embraced a severe form of Islam. Saudis have nonetheless hailed it as a step forward.

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"It is just great to watch a superhero fighting for his kingdom, surrounded by women empowered as warriors, while the issues of race and colonialism were tackled", a 27-year-old political scientist told ABC News.

In 2017, the government said it would lift the ban in part to retain money that Saudis now spend on entertainment during trips to Dubai, Bahrain and elsewhere. Plans call for opening about 350 cinemas representing 2,500 screens by 2030, generating an expected $1 billion in annual box office receipts and making the Kingdom the 11th largest theatrical exhibition market in the world.

Most of the planned reforms also have a practical objective like revamping Saudi Arabia's economy in the face of lower oil prices.

Initial screenings are likely to be for families, with occasional ones for bachelors, Reuters reported.

The extent of censorship was not clear but a Saudi official said the same versions of films shown in Dubai or Kuwait will be suitable for Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi government said that movie theaters in the country will adhere to certain cultural norms, such as having prayer rooms to accommodate practice of the five daily Islamic prayers, but will be more moderate than conservative with respect to gender segregation.

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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