For the first time in 35 years, Saudi men and women were able to watch a film together at a new public cinema. AMC played “Black Panther” in the financial district of the capital Riyadh.
Around 500 guests, officials, and executives attended a gala celebrating the event on April 18, reported CNN. Public screenings are expected to commence May 1. Traditionally, men and women are segregated at public events. However, men and women will have the option to sit together for a film or attended male-only or female-only screenings.
AMC plans on opening an additional three screens at the cinema and will offer a range of different films. By 2030, there should be 350 cinemas in the country, predicts Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture. The cinema industry is expected to add about $24 billion to the economy and more than 30,000 jobs, according to Bloomberg.
Saudi Arabia permitted the cinema to open as part of its Vision 2030 economic initiative. Officials believe it will spur economic growth and diversification. The hope is that opening the cinema will encourage citizens to spend money at home instead of on vacation in nearby countries.
AMC plans to open 30 cinemas in Saudi Arabia over the next five years. Others interested in expanding in the country include Vue International, Vox Cinemas, and Novo Cinemas.
Films will be edited to ensure they comply with Saudi values and principals and so they do not contradict Islamic law.
“Hollywood has been showing movies in the Middle East for a long time [and] has proven that it can be sensitive to the local cultures here and in the region,” AMC CEO Adam Aron told CNN.
There hasn’t been a public cinema in Saudi Arabia since the early 1980s, when films such as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and The Return of the Jedi dominated the box office. Public entertainment was banned after militants seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979 and clerics were given more control of citizens’ daily lives.