Saudi Arabia launched its first movie theater in Riyadh on Wednesday evening via a private VIP event for senior government officials, dignitaries, and select industry figures. The occasion marked the end of the Kingdom’s nearly 40-year ban on public cinemas. Attendance to the private screening in the new cinema was by invitation only, with a public opening to follow on Friday, according to operator AMC Entertainment Holdings. The first film being screened after 35-years is Marvel’s Black Panther. The movie was showcased on a 45-foot screen at a converted symphony concert hall in the Gulf country’s capital.
The screening comes amidst sweeping social changes and women’s rights reforms, marking another historic milestone for Saudi Arabia. The changes are spearheaded by 32-year-old crown prince Mohammed bin Salman— also known as MBS— who has outlined his ambitious goals for the Kingdom in his Vision 2030 plan. It focuses on moving Saudi Arabia towards a more tolerant form of Islam, modernizing the culture, diversifying its economy away from oil, and attracting global investments and tourism.
Under his reforms, women are allowed to attend sporting events, travel without the permission of a male guardian, drive cars (effective in June), and go to the cinema— concerts and cinemas were forbidden for everyone, not just women. Additionally, this week, the Kingdom held its first ever fashion show, Arab Fashion Week, in Riyadh.
Tickets will go on sale on Thursday (today) for the first public viewings to be held on Friday, according to Adam Aron, chief executive of operator AMC Entertainment Holdings.