Saudi cinema launch ends 40-year ban

A red carpet invitation-only gala event attracted senior government officials, foreign dignitaries and select industry figures to watch Marvel's superhero movie "Black Panther" on a 45-foot screen at a converted symphony concert hall in Riyadh.

The 32-year-old prince has already eased restrictions in the last two years, including on public concerts, women driving and gender mixing. The social push by the 32-year-old heir to the throne is part of his so-called Vision 2030, a blueprint for the country that aims to boost local spending and create jobs amid sustained lower oil prices.

Three more screens will be added to the cinema complex by September. "Saudis see movies right now, they love movies, but they watch them at home, they stream them, or they travel outside the kingdom to see movies". In 1983, the ban on publicly released cinema arose as a result of stricter laws banning the co-mingling of men and women in public spaces.

"We heard that the kingdom of Saudi Arabia was thinking about lifting its ban on movie theaters, and we rushed in".

Visitors at the invitation-only screening of Black Panther in Riyadh
Visitors at the invitation-only screening of Black Panther in Riyadh

In particular, the country has at long last allowed women to drive and serve in the army as well as limiting the overwhelming powers of the religious police. Prior to this release, in January 2018 "The Emoji Movie" was screened in a state-sponsored temporary theater as a step toward reviving the movie-going experience in Saudi Arabia, a way to give citizens more social freedom and a method for connecting the country with the evolving cinematic environment around the world.

Access to streaming services, such as Netflix, and satellite TV steadily eroded attempts by the government to censor what the Saudi public could view.

It's not clear whether "Black Panther" will undergo a similar censorship for Wednesday's screening, which will be attended by diplomats, industry insiders, the press and the CEO of AMC Entertainment, Adam Aron. "With that in mind we didn't just want to launch a cinema in Saudi Arabia, we wanted to launch one that fitted the scale of the occasion". In addition, global entertainment companies are entering the market to operate venues and cinemas.

"Saudi policies are failing both domestically and overseas, especially in Lebanon", the Jordanian envoy said, informing his government after meeting his UAE counterpart Hamad bin Saeed al-Shamsi, according to a document released on September 28, 2017.

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  • Megan Austin