Saudi Arabia's Public Cinema Ban Lifts With A Showing Of 'Black Panther'

Carol Kuruvilla

A commercial movie theater opened Wednesday in Saudi Arabia’s capital city of Riyadh ― ending a nearly 40-year ban on public cinemas in the deeply conservative country.

The theater, a converted concert hall, hosted a glitzy, invitation-only screening of the Marvel Studios film “Black Panther” attended by government officials and foreign dignitaries. Members of the general public will be able to purchase tickets on Thursday for Friday showings, according to Reuters. 

The U.S.-based AMC Theatres operates the cinema. Earlier this month, the company announced it had signed a deal with the Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, to open and operate up to 40 theaters in the country over the next five years.

A handout picture provided by the Saudi Royal Palace on April 18, 2018, shows Saudi Information Minister Awwad Alawwad, center, holding a small bucket of popcorn as he attends a test screening at the AMC cinema in Riyadh.

Government censors will review movies before they’re shown at Saudi theaters. A kissing scene in “Black Panther” was reportedly cut from the film for Wednesday’s screening.

Men and women will generally be allowed to sit together in theaters, The Associated Press reports, though some screenings will be reserved for a male-only crowd. The country’s rules about gender segregation typically split customers into a men-only section and a “family” section reserved for women and their male relatives.

Saudi Arabian public movie theaters began shutting down in the late 1970s after the country adopted ultraconservative Islamic law. Saudi Arabia’s powerful conservative clerics claimed Western movies did not meet their hard-line interpretations of Islam.

A woman poses at Saudi Arabia's first new commercial movie theater in Riyadh on April 18, 2018.

The new push for theaters is part of a larger package of economic and social...

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