Saudi Arabians Can Finally Enjoy Cinema Again, First Up: Black Panther

It’s been more than 35 years since Saudi Arabians were allowed to go out to the cinema and watch a film, but that’s changed with the partnership of AMC cinemas to spend the next five years opening 40 cinemas in 15 Saudi cities. First up for the entertainment-starved Saudis? Black Panther.

The first screen to open will be in the King Abdullah Financial District of the capital [of Riyadh], and a source told Reuters news agency the first film shown would be Marvel superhero blockbuster Black Panther.

The source also said that cinemas would not be segregated by gender, as is normally required in public venues. It is unclear, however, what kind of movies will be permitted – and it is likely that some will be censored.

The cultural change is part of an ambitious program of social reform instituted by the 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was a guest of President Donald Trump last month, and has traveled the U.S. in an effort to gain support and possible investment for his reform agenda. He also broke precedent recently when asserted Israel’s “right to live and coexist” beside their Palestinian neighbors.

The Crown Prince calls his economic and social reform program Vision 2030, and the belief is that by bringing cinema back to the region — a perk they enjoyed in the 1970s but were stripped of due to the hardline Wahhabist clerics — the economic gain to Saudi Arabia could be as much $1 billion in annual ticket sales in 350 theaters.

One of the goals of the program is to reduce the Saudi economy’s reliance on oil, and to encourage Saudi citizens to spend and invest their money at home rather than in foreign economies.

Culture and information minister Awwad Alawwad told Sky News that, “The restoration of cinemas will… help boost the local economy by increasing household spending on entertainment while supporting job creation in the Kingdom.”

Saudi Arabians are reportedly voracious consumers of Western cinema, but have only been able to watch privately in their homes.