'Black Panther' goes to Saudi Arabia as movie theater ban ends

Emmanuel Macron

In an official opening ceremony before the movie began, AMC bosses joined Saudi government officials on the stage.

The conservative kingdom lifted a 35-year ban on cinemas last year as part of a far-reaching liberalisation drive, with U.S. giant AMC Entertainment granted the first licence to operate movie theatres.

Al-Zahrani pointed out that there are available spaces in commercial complexes that can be converted to movie theatres after requirements are fulfilled.

Cinemas were closed on the orders of strict clerics, but they are being reopened under a larger reform plan spearheaded by crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman which aims to catapult the ultra-conservative kingdom into the 21st century.

"It will be the first in a series of test screenings, attended by industry specialists, that will be held... to support final preparations for the opening of the cinema to the wider public", the information ministry's Center for International Communication said.

A source familiar with the matter told Reuters last month that theatres would not be segregated by gender like most other public places, but it remains unclear how heavily movies might be censored.

The kingdom banned cinemas in the early 1980s under pressure from Islamists as Saudi society turned towards a particularly severe form of religion.

Meanwhile, apart from the historic screening on Wednesday - a liberalization move for the Kingdom, the newly-formed Saudi Film Council is set to attend the Cannes Film Festival, where Saudi will have its first pavilion and showcase several local shorts. For the most part, though, Saudis who wanted to watch a film in a movie theater would have to drive to nearby Bahrain or the United Arab Emirates for weekend trips to the cinema. In the 1970s, there were informal movie screenings, but the experience could be interrupted by the country's religious police.

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed is working to break up with Saudi Arabia due to disapproval of Saudi policies in the region, according to secret diplomatic documents published by Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar.

"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.

America's biggest movie theater company, AMC, will show the Hollywood blockbuster on Wednesday at its new single-screen cinema in the financial district of the capital Riyadh.

AMC is partnering with a subsidiary of Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund, known as the Public Investment Fund, to build up to 40 AMC cinemas across the country over the next five years.

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