SEE PHOTOS | Saudi Arabia ends a 35-year ban on cinema with historic 'Black Panther' screening and popcorn

Published: 19th April 2018 01:50 PM  |   Last Updated: 19th April 2018 02:37 PM  

The lights dimmed and the crowd of men and women erupted into applause and hoots as Hollywood's blockbuster 'Black Panther' premiered in Saudi Arabia's first movie theater on April 18, after a nearly 35-year ban. Though it was a private, invitation-only screening, for many Saudis it's seen as part of a new era in which women will soon be allowed to drive and people in the kingdom will be able to go to concerts and fashion shows and tuck into a bucket of popcorn in a cinema. (AP Photo)
Many Saudi 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 pushed through a number of major social reforms with support from his father, King Salman, to satiate the desires of the country's majority young population. (AP Photo)
'This is a historic day for your country,' Adam Aron, CEO of AMC Entertainment, told the crowd at the screening. It's been about 37 years since you've been able to watch movies the way movies are meant to be watched in a theater, together on a big screen.' US-based AMC, one of the world's biggest movie theater operators, only two weeks earlier signed a deal with Prince Mohammed to operate the first cinema in the kingdom. The social reforms undertaken by the 32-year-old heir to the throne are part of his so-called Vision 2030, a blueprint for Saudi Arabia that aims to boost local spending and create jobs amid sustained lower oil prices. (AP Photo)
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The Saudi government projects that the opening of movie theaters will 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. AMC has partnered with a subsidiary of Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund, known as the Public Investment Fund, to build up to 40 AMC cinemas across the country over the next five years. (AP Photo)
Movies screened in Saudi cinemas will be subject to approval by government censors, and Wednesday night's premiere was no exception. Scenes of violence were not cut, but a final scene involving a kiss was axed. Still, it's a stark reversal for a country where public movie screenings were banned in the 1980s during a wave of ultra-conservatism that swept Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo)
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Until now Saudis who wanted to watch a film in a movie theater had to drive to nearby Bahrain or the United Arab Emirates for weekend trips to the cinema. In the 1970s, there were informal movie screenings but the experience could be interrupted by the country's religious police, whose powers have since been curbed. Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi writer, describes the theaters of the 1970s as being 'like American drive-ins, except much more informal. (AP Photo)
Access to streaming services, such as Netflix, and satellite TV steadily eroded attempts by the government to censor what the Saudi public could view. By 2013, the film 'Wadjda' made history by becoming the first Academy Award entry for Saudi Arabia, though it wasn't nominated for the Oscars. (AP Photo)
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