‘Black Panther’ expected to be first film shown in Saudi Arabian cinema after 35-year ban

‘Black Panther’ expected to be first film shown in Saudi Arabian cinema after 35-year ban


Saudi Arabia’s movie-watchers are in for a treat later this month, 35 years after cinemas were banned in the country. On April 18, AMC will open its first cinema in the country. The first film to be shown? According to multiple reports, “Black Panther.”


If the Saudi government wanted to send a message with its film choice, this American blockbuster superhero flick is a good one: The movie features a fictional African kingdom that uses a mysterious natural resource to rapidly develop, with a young and charismatic prince becoming king and ultimately deciding to use its technological advances and wealth for the good of the greater world.


Saudi Arabia’s cinemas are reopening under the guidance of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 32. Vast oil reserves have made the country fantastically wealthy, and Salman is pushing hard to use these riches to restructure the country politically and economically before they run out, as part of a plan dubbed “Vision 2030.”


Students at Saudi Arabia’s first film school are now one step closer to seeing their work on the big screen as the country’s decades-long ban on cinema is lifted. (Reuters)


Saudi Arabia is pursuing grand domestic projects like Neom — a planned high-tech supercity with a $500 billion price tag — while crafting an ambitious foreign policy that aims to check the influence of Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival.



“Black Panther” is not quite the first film to be shown in Saudi Arabia since the ban on cinemas was lifted. In January, a number of films aimed at children were shown in a makeshift theater in Jiddah at an event sponsored by the Saudi government. According to Reuters, among the films shown was “The Emoji Movie,” an animated film about an imaginary city called Textopolis.


Under a joint plan by AMC and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, the cinema chain expects to open 30 to 40 theaters in approximately 15 cities over the next five years, ultimately opening as many as 100 theaters by 2030.


AMC will be followed by Vue International, a cinema chain based in Britain that announced last month it had signed a deal to open 30 cinemas in Saudi Arabia. Other chains are expected to follow, eager to reach a new market with 33 million potential consumers. John Fithian, president of the Washington-based National Association for Theater Owners, has said the Saudi cinema market could be worth $1 billion in the future.



In December, Saudi Arabia announced it would allow cinemas to operate in the country, with Awwad Alawwad, the Saudi minister of culture and information, calling the return of movie theaters “a watershed moment in the development of the cultural economy of the kingdom” in a statement.


Cinemas operated in Saudi Arabia in the 20th century; they were opened by Western expats in the 1930s and closed in the 1980s as the country became more conservative. Clerics have denounced Western movies as immoral — in January, Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Abdulaziz Al Sheikh, reaffirmed this perspective saying that “singing concerts and cinemas are a depravity.”


Over the years, films have seeped into Saudi Arabian culture, with technology making it easier to watch foreign movies in the privacy of homes. Many Saudis visit cinemas when they are abroad; and an Imax theater opened in the Saudi city of Khobar, though it is part of a science and technology center and plays nature documentaries only.


A nascent Saudi Arabian film tradition is growing and gaining international recognition. The 2012 feature length film, “Wadjda,” was the Saudi Arabian entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards and won numerous accolades.



Representatives of AMC and Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture and Information did not immediately respond to a request for comment. According to Hollywood Reporter, “Black Panther” will be screened at the first AMC cinema in the country, a converted symphony hall in the King Abdullah Financial District in Riyadh. It will play for five days before being followed by another superhero movie, “Avengers: Infinity War.”


Source: Washington Post