Saudi Arabia has lifted a decades-long ban on cinemas, part of a series of social reforms by the powerful crown prince that are shaking up the ultra-conservative kingdom. For more than 35 years, people living in the Gulf State weren’t able to watch the latest releases unless it was streamed online.
Movie theatres were shut down in the 1980’s during a wave of ultra-conservatism in the country. Many of Saudi Arabia’s clerics view Western movies and even Arabic films made in Egypt or Lebanon as sinful.
The government said in a recent announcement it would begin licensing cinemas immediately and the first movie theatres are expected to open next March, in a decision that could boost the kingdom’s nascent film industry. The plan foresees to have more than 2,000 screens up and running by 2030.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is trying to reform the country, with support from his father, King Salman. The reform plan also includes lifting a ban on women driving from next year, and bringing back concerts to please the country’s young population.
Reviving cinemas would represent a paradigm shift in the kingdom, which is promoting entertainment as part of a sweeping reform plan for a post-oil era, despite opposition from conservatives who have long vilified movie theatres as vulgar and sinful.
Despite there being no movie theatres in Saudi Arabia, young Saudi filmmakers have received government support and recognition in recent years. The government has backed a Saudi film festival that’s taken place for the past few years in the eastern city of Dhahran. This year, some 60 Saudi films were screened.
At the moment it is not immediately clear if movie theatres would have family-only sections, segregating women and families from the male-only audience. Another unknown is whether most major Hollywood, Bollywood and Arabic movie releases would be shown in theatres and how heavily edited the content will be.
The Ministry of Culture and Information said there are no additional details available at this time. The government said it will announce regulations in the coming weeks.