The year is 1983. The country is Saudi Arabia. Out of fear of a Shia Revolution reminiscent of the event in Iran, Fahd bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the king and prime minister, follows the demands of his clerics and imposes an extremely conservative form of Islam upon his nation. On top of decisions like strengthening the separation of the sexes and empowering the religious police, the king exposed a ban on all cinemas in Saudi Arabia. For 35 years, this ban remained intact.
On Wednesday, the first commercial film to have a public screening in 35 years was presented. Moreover, thanks to the current relaxing of laws separating the sexes, one of many decisions being made by the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, men and women sat side by side in the new AMC theater set in the King Adbullah Financial District in Riyadh. And what better way to kick off the first film screening in over three decades than with the Marvel Studios juggernaut Black Panther?
In a piece by Alex Ritman of The Hollywood Reporter, the Saudi minister of culture and information Awwad Alawwad said:
“The return of cinema to Saudi Arabia marks an important moment in the Kingdom’s modern-day history and cultural life, as well as in the development of the Kingdom’s entertainment industry. Cinema has always played an important role in bringing cultures together, and Saudi Arabia is ready to play its part.”
AMC CEO Adamn Aron stated that, “it was clear that this is a historic event.”
The theater located in Riyadh is the first of 100 multiplexes AMC plans to open within the next few years. By 2030, Saudi Arabia hopes to have somewhere around 350 multiplexes built and a yearly spending box office of $1 billion.