Fri, Apr 20, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Saudi Arabia screens ‘Black Panther’ to mark opening

AP, RIYADH

Visitors wait in front of a Black Panther movie poster on Wednesday for an invitation-only screening of the film at the King Abdullah Financial District Theater in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Photo: AP

Saudi Arabia on Wednesday held a private screening of the Hollywood blockbuster Black Panther to herald the launch of movie theaters in the kingdom, and tickets went on sale yesterday for public showings today.

Authorities held the invitation-only event in a concert hall converted into a cinema complex in the capital, Riyadh. The screening, attended by both men and women, was to be followed by a rush to build movie theaters in major cities.

The Saudi Arabian government dubbed Wednesday’s event as “the showing of the first commercial film in the kingdom after more than 35 years.”

Audience members clearly enjoyed the moment, eating popcorn and erupting into applause and hoots when the movie started.

“This is a landmark moment in the transformation of Saudi Arabia into a more vibrant economy and society,” Saudi Arabian Minister of Culture and Information Awwad Alawwad said in statement ahead of the screening.

It is a stark reversal for a country where public movie screenings were banned in the 1980s during a wave of ultraconservatism that swept Saudi Arabia.

Many Saudi Arabian clerics view Western movies, and even Arabic films made in Egypt and Lebanon, as sinful.

Despite decades of ultraconservative dogma, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has sought to ram through a number of major social reforms with support from his father, King Salman.

The crown prince is behind measures such as lifting a ban on women driving that is to go into effect this summer, and bringing back concerts and other forms of entertainment to satiate the desires of the country’s majority young population.

The social push by the 32-year-old heir to the throne is part of his so-called “Vision 2030,” a blueprint for the country that aims to boost local spending and create jobs amid sustained lower oil prices.

The Saudi Arabian government projects that the opening of movie theaters would contribute more than 90 billion Saudi riyals (US$24 billion) to the economy and create more than 30,000 jobs by 2030.

The kingdom said there would be 300 cinemas with about 2,000 screens built by 2030.

In the past few years, Saudi Arabia has gradually been loosening restrictions on movie screenings, with local film festivals and screenings in makeshift theaters.

For the most part, though, Saudi Arabians 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, whose powers have since been curbed.

Saudi Arabian writer and dissident Jamal Khashoggi describes the theaters of the 1970s as being “like American drive-ins, except much more informal.”

In an opinion piece for the Washington Post, he wrote that to avoid being arrested at one of these screenings in Medina, a friend of his broke his leg jumping off a wall to escape the religious police. By the 1980s, movie screenings were largely banned unless they took place in private residential compounds for foreigners or at cultural centers run by foreign embassies.

Access to streaming services, such as Netflix, and satellite TV steadily eroded attempts by the government to censor what the Saudi Arabian public could view.

By 2013, the film Wadjda made history by becoming the first Academy Award entry for Saudi Arabia, though it was not nominated for the Oscars.

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