‘Black Panther’ Breaks Saudi Arabia’s 35-Year Cinema Ban

Marvel’s, Black Panther, which has continuously surpassed box office records around the world, has broken yet another record. The superhero movie will be the first film released in Saudi Arabia in 35 years, by Disney and its distribution partner in the Middle East, Italia Film.

Black Panther is a superhero film based on the Marvel Comics series which is set in the fictional, technologically advanced African nation, Wakanda. Its cast is mainly composed of African Americans whose characters pushed boundaries and exceeded expectations.

Saudi Arabia’s movie-watchers are in for a treat as Saudi Arabia’s first cinema will open on April 18 in Riyadh, the capital 35 years after cinemas were banned in the country, the authorities said on Wednesday after agreeing with AMC Entertainment Holdings to open up to 40 theatres over the next five years reports Reuters.

Adam Aron, chief executive and president of AMC, left, and Awwad Al-Awwad, Saudi Arabia’s minister of culture and information, pose on Wednesday, April 4, 2018 in Los Angeles with the first cinema license to open and operate cinemas in Saudi Arabia. (Danny Moloshok/AP Images for AMC Theaters)

In December, Saudi Arabia announced it would allow cinemas to operate in the country, with Awwad Alawwad, the Saudi minister of culture and information, calling the return of movie theaters “a watershed moment in the development of the cultural economy of the kingdom” in a statement.

Movie theaters were banned in the early 1980s when the country adopted ultra-conservative standards in 1979. Despite the cinema ban, however, Hollywood films and recent television series were and continue to be widely watched at home.

In 2017, the government said it would lift the ban as part of ambitious economic and social reforms pushed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who, according to Reuters, is currently touring the United States seeking investments to help broaden the economy and lessen its dependence on oil. The removal of the ban is part of a drive by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to transform and reinvent the ultra-conservative Muslim country. The 32-year-old prince, who rose to prominence last year has introduced high-profile liberalizations, including permitting Saudi Arabian women to drive.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud is seen during a meeting with U.N Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the United Nations headquarters in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S. March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Levy/File Photo

The Marvel superhero film will receive a gala opening on April 18 in Saudi Arabia’s brand new AMC theater in the King Abdullah Financial District, Riyadh; in a building which boasts 600 leather seats, originally intended to be a symphony concert hall, with orchestra and balcony levels and marble bathrooms.

Under a joint plan by AMC and the Public Investment Fund (PIF), Saudi Arabia’s main sovereign wealth fund, the cinema chain expects to open 30 to 40 theaters in approximately 15 cities over the next five years, ultimately opening as many as 100 theaters by 2030 which it hopes will attract nearly $1 billion in annual ticket sales.

This is great news for Saudi Arabian filmmakers who have been growing and gaining international recognition with films such as the 2012 feature-length film, “Wadjda,” which has won numerous accolades and was the Saudi Arabian entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards.

Reports say most movie theaters in the country would not be gender-segregated, a break from the country’s tradition in which women and men do not tend to mingle in public.

“The restoration of cinemas will … help boost the local economy by increasing household spending on entertainment while supporting job creation in the Kingdom,” Culture and Information Minister Awwad Alawwad said in a statement.

Since opening in February, Black Panther has earned over $1.2 billion in global sales, making it the tenth highest-grossing film in history, according to Box Office Mojo. It also became the most-tweeted about film ever, racking up 35 million mentions, dispelling myths, and generating a variety of memes and in-depth discussions.