Marvel’s record-breaking superhero movie Black Panther is breaking more new ground by becoming the first film to screen at Saudi Arabian cinemas in 35 years.
The movie will be shown at the country’s first-ever AMC movie theatre on April 18. The 620-seat movie theatre, a converted symphony hall in the King Abdullah Financial District, is opening just four months after the country lifted the ban last December. It’s reported to be one of as many as 100 theaters set to open by the year 2030.
Black Panther will play for five days before giving way to Marvel’s forthcoming movie Avengers: Infinity War, set to release everywhere on April 26.
As the Washington Post explains, movie theaters were common in Saudi Arabia for a good portion of the 20th century, with the first cinemas opening up in the Middle Eastern country by Western expatriates in the 1930s. In the 1980s, however, the country’s increasingly conservative atmosphere resulted in a ban of the Western practice, seen at the time (and, to some extent, still seen) as immoral.
Under the order of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabian officials announced that they would lift the ban on movie theaters late last year. In an effort to revitalize their economy, Saudi Arabia has also recently lifted the bans on public concerts and allowing women to drive.
The country’s collective loosening of cultural restrictions is not seen as favorable by all, however. Saudi Arabia’s highest cleric, Grand Mufti Abdulaziz Al Sheikh, was quoted calling singing concerts and cinemas a “depravity,” and speaking against the infiltration of western culture in a statement, warning that opening cinemas would represent a “call for mixing between sexes.”
“At the beginning they would assign areas for women, but then both men and women will end up in one area,” he said. “This corrupts morals and destroys values.”
Still, despite the opinion of some high-ranking clerics, Saudi Arabia seems welcoming of all cinemas, in light of their improving the country’s already-flourishing economy. AMC, along with the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, plans to open 30 to 40 new locations in the country over the next five years. Other film enterprises are sure to follow, wanting to cash in on Saudi Arabia’s 33 million potential customers.
Technically speaking, Saudi Arabia has already seen its first movie screenings, which appeared in makeshift movie theaters during a government-sponsored event catered for children. Reuters reveals that among the films shown at this event were the animated movies The Emoji Movie (sorry, Saudis) and Captain Underpants.
Since its launch in February, Black Panther has already earned over $1.2 billion, making more in its first week than any other MCU film. Read Paste’s review of the most tweeted-about film of all time right here.