Riyadh: 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. Authorities said the public would be able to purchase tickets online on Thursday for showings starting Friday. But there may be delays.
Though it was a private, invitation-only screening on Wednesday evening, for many Saudis it marked one of the clearest moments of change to sweep the country in decades.
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.
“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 showing.
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. Many Saudi clerics view Western movies and even Arabic films made in Egypt and Lebanon as sinful.
“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.”
U.S.-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. AMC and its local partner hurriedly transformed a concert hall in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, into a cinema complex for Wednesday’s screening.