VOX to open multiplex in Riyadh soon

22 April 2018, 01:51 | Isaac Mcdaniel

Middle East Theater Chain Vox to Become Second to Open in Saudi Arabia

Saudi cinema ban is dead with an invite-only screening of Black Panther in Riyadh

Saudi Arabia launched its first commercial movie theater on Wednesday, ending a almost 40-year ban on cinemas under a push by the crown prince to modernize the deeply conservative Muslim kingdom.

Saudi Arabia was introduced to cinemas half a century ago through foreign companies and embassies, which came to work in Saudi Arabia at the time. It'll likely be joined by other operators including Vue and iPic in the coming months as the gold rush to take advantage of an untapped market estimated to be worth some $1 billion heats up. The Saudi official said there would also be no segregation when theaters open to the public - moviegoers would be able to choose between mixed, male-only and female-only screenings.

The launch, held by the Chinese-owned AMC Entertainment, featured the screening of the latest Hollywood blockbuster Black Panther.

The move comes as part of Vision 2030, the kingdom's post-oil economy plan under which the government aims to increase the percentage of women in the nation's workforce from 23 per cent to 28 per cent by 2020.

The gala opening was limited to about 500 invited guests, executives and officials, but public screenings of the movie will begin soon, AMC said. A kissing scene in "Black Panther" was reportedly cut from the film for Wednesday's screening.

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But Saudi Arabia's decision to lift the 35-year ban on cinemas points to major efforts by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to modernize the country and make its economy more competitive on the global stage. Saudi Arabia's powerful conservative clerics claimed Western movies did not meet their hard-line interpretations of Islam.

"Saudis now are going to be able to go to a attractive theater and watch movies the way they're supposed to be watched: on a big screen", he told Reuters ahead of the screening. Saudi Arabia's highest-ranking cleric warned a year ago of the "depravity" of cinemas while urging the government "not to open doors for evil". The growth of the exhibition sector is expected to create around 30,000 permanent jobs and some 130,000 temporary positions, by 2030.

AMC has partnered with a subsidiary of Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund, known as the Public Investment Fund, to build up to 40 AMC cinemas across the country over the next five years. Some powerful religious voices still oppose the opening.

Saudi Arabia had already started gradually loosening restrictions on movie screenings in the past few years, with local film festivals and screenings in makeshift theaters.

Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Culture has declared that the movies shown in the country "will be subject to censorship according to media policy standards of the Kingdom, stressing that will be in line with values and principles in place and do not contradict with Sharia Laws and moral values in the Kingdom".

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