Saudi Arabia opened its first cinema since the 1980s with a showing of “Black Panther” Wednesday as part of a series of reforms in favor of moderate Islam.
The showing of “Black Panther” was invitation only and subject to government censorship. A kiss scene was deleted from the film’s end. Saudis have nonetheless hailed it as a step forward.
Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who serves as the deputy prime minister and minister of defense, promised an era of reform in the country, according to The Associated Press. Promised reforms include allowing Saudi women to drive, the continued showing of movies subject to government approval, and allowing men and women to attend fashion shows.
“It’s a new era, a new age. It’s that simple. Things are changing, progress is happening. We’re opening up and we’re catching up with everything that’s happening in the world,” theater attendee Rahaf Alhendi told the AP.
Most of the planned reforms also have a practical purpose like revamping Saudi Arabia’s economy in the face of lower oil prices. The Saudi government predicts the planned 300 movie theaters will create more than 30,000 jobs and add $24 billion to the country’s economy.
Saudi Arabia also had an economic motivation for the 2017 overturn of the longstanding ban on women drivers. Once the full overturn of the ban has taken effect, Saudi women will ideally have an easier time finding employment. They will not have to pay drivers to take them to their jobs and will be able to take more of their earnings home.
AMC, one of the largest cinema operators worldwide, signed a deal with Prince Mohammad to operate the country’s first movie theater in a concert hall in Riyadh, the country’s capital. AMC Entertainment CEO Adam Aron was present at Wednesday’s showing.
“This is a historic day for your country,” Aron told viewers at the screening of “Black Panther.” “It’s been about 37 years since you’ve been able to watch movies the way movies are meant to be watched in a theater, together on a big screen.”
AMC, in conjunction with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, plans to open 40 theaters throughout the country over the next five years.
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.
“We want to ensure the movies are in line with our culture and respect for values. Meanwhile, we want to provide people with a beautiful show and really enjoy watching their own movies,” Saudi Minister of Culture and Information Awwad Alawwad told the AP.
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