Cinemas in Saudi Arabia to reopen after 35-year ban

Many citizens of Saudi Arabia have expressed great joy on social media since the government’s announcement that it will reopen cinemas around the country, having closed down such entertainment venues during a wave of ultra-conservatism in 1980s.

According to a report from The Associated Press (AP), Saudi Arabia announced on Monday that it will allow cinemas to open in the conservative kingdom next year.

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Movies will be released on screen for the first time in more than 35 years in the latest social push by the country’s young crown prince.

It’s the latest stark reversal in a county where cinema were shut down in the 1980s during a wave of ultra-conservatism in the country. Many of Saudi Arabia’s clerics view Western movies and even Arabic films made in Egypt and Lebanon as sinful.

Despite decades of ultraconservative dogma, 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 next year and bringing back concerts and other forms of entertainment to satiate the desires of the country’s majority young population. Some of these are seen as mere window dressing to the country’s deeper issues of social injustices.

The 32-year-old heir to the throne’s social push 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.

According to Monday’s announcement, a resolution was passed, paving the way for licenses to be granted to commercial cinemas, with the first ones expected to open in March 2018.

Many Saudis took to Twitter to express their joy at the news, posting images of buckets of popcorn and moving graphics of people dancing, fainting and crying.

“It’s spectacular news. We are in a state of shock,” Saudi actor and producer Hisham Fageeh said.

Fageeh starred in and co-produced the Saudi film Barakah Meets Barakah by director Mahmoud Sabbagh, which premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in February. The movie, which has been called the kingdom’s first romantic comedy, tells the story of a civil servant who falls for a Saudi girl whose Instagram posts have made her a local celebrity.

“We are essentially pioneers because we all took risks to work in this industry,” he said. “We were super lucky because luck is always a factor of whether we make it or not.”

 

It was not immediately clear if the cinemas would have family-only sections, segregating women and families from male-only audiences. Another unknown was whether most major Hollywood, Bollywood and Arabic movie releases would be shown in cinemas and how heavily edited the content will be.

The Ministry of Culture and Information said there are no additional details available at this time.The government said it will announce regulations in the coming weeks.

Fageeh said that while he’s concerned with the censorship rules that might be in place, he’s also concerned that scenes of violence are typically permitted on screens across the Arab world, but “any kind of intimacy and love is considered taboo and a moral violation.”

“It’s a global conversation we need to have,” he said.

The Saudi government says the opening of cinemas will contribute more than $24 billion (90 billion riyals) 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 in the country by 2030.

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