Reforms in Saudi Arabia taking place under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman include lifting a 35-year ban on cinemas in the desert nation. A showing of "Black Panther" is scheduled for a test screening in Riyadh.
For the first time since officials lifted a 35-year ban on cinemas in Saudi Arabia last year as part of a modernization drive in the highly conservative kingdom, a cinema will open for a test screening Wednesday in Riyadh. Movie theaters are set to open to the larger public next month.
Selected for the special occasion is theUS blockbuster "Black Panther," a super hero story following characters in the fictionalized African nation of Wakanda which has been smashing box office records since its release two months ago.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has visited several Western nations recently as part of his reforms movement
Only a test
"It will be the first in a series of test screenings," the information ministry's Center for International Communication told AFP news agency. The screening at the new cinema in the King Abdullah Financial District will be attended by industry specialists in advance of the movie theater opening to the general public in May. Among attendees is Adam Aron, chief executive of AMC Entertainment, which granted the "Black Panther" license.
The cinema is the first of an anticipated 40 cinemas to open 15 cities across the Middle Eastern kingdom over the next five years. International theater chains have long eyed the country as an ideal place for expansion, with its population of 30 million people, a majority of whom are under the age of 25.
At the moment, Saudis splurge on visits to neighboring tourist hubs like Dubai, where they see films and visit amusement parks while on holiday.
A part of a larger reform package
The move to re-open theaters comes as part of a reform package by the kingdom's 32-year-old leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is likewise said to be behind the reforms that will see women driving in the country next June — a practice previously banned — as he has vowed the nation will return to "moderate Islam."
The cinemas, along with added spending on festivals and concerts, are being opened as bin Salman seeks to balance unpopular subsidy cuts in an era of low oil prices with more entertainment options — despite opposition from religious hardliners.
ct/eg (dpa, AFP)