04/19/2018, 17.07
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New era begins in Saudi Arabia amid popcorn and Marvel movies

For the first time in 36 years, a movie was screened in Saudi Arabia. Tickets for the first show open to the public went on sale today. For one moviegoer, “We’re opening up and we’re catching up with everything that’s happening in the world.” However, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plans to modernise the country and boost the economy, hit by the low oil prices, has come in for criticism from conservatives.

Riyadh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Movies are back in Saudi Arabia. For Rahaf Alhendi, who attended the first movie showing in 36 years, “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.”

In 1982, under pressure from the country’s religious establishment, the government ordered the closure of all movie theatres. Yesterday, Marvel’s superhero movie ‘Black Panther’ (minus a censored kiss scene) marked the end of the ban as it premiered on a 45-foot screen at the King Abdullah Financial District Theatre.

The red-carpet invitation-only gala event attracted senior government officials, foreign dignitaries and select industry figures. Tickets went on sale today for anyone who wants to see the movie tomorrow.

Saudi authorities are planning to open around 350 cinemas with over 2,500 screens by 2030. Except for certain screenings for families and others for male-only crowds, movie theatres will not be gender-segregated with “family sections” for women and related men and separate “single sections” for male-only crowds.

Public viewing of movies marks another milestone in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 plan to open up the country, which includes reforms to modernise the country, boost local spending, and create jobs at a time when oil prices are low.

Many Saudis have rejoiced at the end of the cinema ban, sharing praise and pictures of Prince Mohammed on social media. But others expressed confusion.

Some see the change as a government flip-flop, with one tweeting on Wednesday: “Remember you will stand in front of God ... and you will bear the sins of all those who watched the movies.”

So far, there has been little apparent resistance to social reforms, which seemed unthinkable just a few years ago. However, room for criticism is also limited. Several prominent clerics were arrested last year in an apparent attempt to quell dissent.

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