Saudi Arabia Readies to Open First Cinema in 35 Years

Saudi women attend the 'Short Film Competition 2' festival on October 20, 2017, at King Fahad Culture Center in Riyadh. The rare movie night this week in Riyadh was a precursor to what is expected to be a formal lifting of the kingdom's ban on cinemas, long vilified as vulgar …

The first commercial cinema on Saudi Arabian soil in 35 years will be open by the end of April, with another 30-40 to follow in 15 cities over the next five years.

The drawcard opening feature will be the Marvel action thriller Black Panther.

The kingdom closed its cinemas in the early 1980s following a drive by Islamic hardliners, who see cinemas as a threat to cultural and religious identity.

Saudi Arabia’s highest-ranking cleric warned in January, 2017 of the “depravity” of cinemas, saying they would corrupt morals.

But authorities appear to be shrugging off the threat.

Chinese-owned AMC Entertainment is responsible for the commissioning of the new theatres, according to Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture.

“The decision is part of Saudi Arabia’s social and economic reform programme under Vision 2030, spearheaded by His Royal Highness the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is on an official visit to the United States,” AMC said on Wednesday.

Saudi filmmakers have long argued that a ban on cinemas does not make sense in the age of YouTube.

Saudi films have been making waves abroad, using the internet to circumvent distribution channels and sometimes the stern gaze of state censors.

Cinema is not the only art form to benefit by the Vision 2030 reforms.

In recent months, Saudi Arabia has organised concerts, a Comic-Con popular culture festival and a mixed-gender national day celebration that saw people dancing in the streets to thumping electronic music for the first time.

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