Saudi Arabia Breaks 35-Year Cinema Ban With Historic 'Black Panther' Screening

Black Panther in Riyadh - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of The Center for International Communication
The film screened in a theater with no clear segregation in Riyadh.

Black Panther has become the first commercial film to be given a public screening in Saudi Arabia for 35 years. 

Marvel's already culturally groundbreaking blockbuster on Wednesday screened at AMC's first Saudi site in Riyadh's King Abdullah Financial District, the first movie theater to open in the kingdom since a ban on cinemas was lifted in December. Numerous theaters had been present in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s, but these were closed in the early '80s as the country adopted ultra-conservative forms of Islam.

Earlier questions regarding issues of segregation appear to have been answered by a photo from the event showing both men and women sitting together. The Saudi government has recently relaxed enforcement of laws banning co-mingling between unrelated men and women, although it still remains a gray area. 

"The return of cinema to Saudi Arabia marks an important moment in the Kingdom’s modern-day history and cultural life, as well as in the development of the Kingdom’s entertainment industry," said Awwad Alawwad, Saudi minister of culture and information. "Cinema has always played an important role in bringing cultures together, and Saudi Arabia is ready to play its part."

The cinema in Riyadh — a specially-fitted symphony hall in the central King Abdullah Financial District— is the first of up to 100 multiplexes AMC plans to open in the coming years, and one of around 350 Saudi Arabia hopes will have opened by 2030, generating approximately $1 billion in annual box-office spend. 

"At AMC, we have around 1,000 theaters and 11,000 screens across the globe — but none of them have caught the world’s imagination like this one," said AMC CEO Adam Aron. "When I talked to people around the world in recent weeks, it was clear that this is a historic event."