When the light dimmed and the popcorn came out, it seemed an applause had erupted as the first private screening of the Hollywood blockbuster “Black Panther” launched towards the middle of April in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The private screening was organised in Riyadh, as an invitation-only event, which was attended by both men and women.
Public movie theatres have now begun operation, as movie theatres are currently being built all across major cities.
For many, this development marked one of the clearest moments of change to sweep the country in decades for the ultraconservative kingdom.
It is all part of a major overhaul to the current system, which will soon allow women to drive, go to concerts and fashion shows, and now tuck into a bucket of popcorn in their local cinemas.
For many, this represents a new age for the country.
“It’s a new era, a new age. It’s that simple. Things are changing, progress is happening. We’re opening up and we’re catching up with everything that’s happening in the world,” said Rahaf Alhendi, who attended the private movie showing.
However, these developments will still be subject to government oversight and censorship. Some movies may be delayed in gaining censorship approval.
For instance, the highly popular movie ‘Black Panther’ received no censorship to violent scenes but the final scene which involved a kiss was axed.
Such censorship, however, may be necessary given that many within Saudi society view such entertainment with scorn. For many Saudi clerics, Western movies and even Arabic films made in Egypt and Lebanon are considered to be sinful. Nevertheless, the transformation is a major historic moment for the country.
The expected revenue from these developments are also highly anticipated by the government and private enterprise, as it is expected to contribute more than 90 billion riyals ($24 billion) to the economy and create more than 30,000 jobs by 2030. The kingdom says there will be 300 cinemas with around 2,000 screens built by 2030.
Yet, to adhere to the kingdom’s norms on gender segregation, there will be some modifications to the usual movie experience.
Saudi Minister of Culture and Information Awwad Alawwad said that, “We want to ensure the movies are in line with our culture and respect for values. Meanwhile, we want to provide people with a beautiful show and really enjoy watching their own movies.”
The new movie theatres will also come equipped with prayer rooms to accommodate the daily Muslim prayer times.