Going to the movies is a pastime that the Western world has taken for granted; Saudi Arabia has deprived its citizens of that luxury, but after 35 years, the government will soon begin to give out licenses for commercial movie theaters (per The NYT). This is one of several of the government’s recent moves towards modernization.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been at the forefront of this effort to transform Saudi society, with other recent societal changes including allowing women to drive and to attend soccer games, and allowing other similar forms of public entertainment, like concerts.
While Saudis may have been able to watch movies via streaming, downloading and satellite television, the act itself represents a large shift of influence within the Saudi powers, and increasing tolerance towards certain Western ideas—it seems like just yesterday that a Saudi actor was arrested for dabbing. Saudi Arabia’s religious authority, mostly composed of conservative clerics, have been against such a move, calling movies a source of “depravity.” But as Crown Prince Mohammed has demonstrated with a recent purge of corrupt figures (many of them his own cousins and other princes), this is a country that is slowly moving towards progressivism.
It isn’t totally clear what kind of films will be allowed for screening, as they will have to abide by Islamic law. “The content of the shows will be subjected to censorship based on the media policy of the kingdom,” said a statement from the country’s Culture and Information Ministry. “The shows will be in line with the values and principles, and will include enriching content that is not contrary to Shariah laws and ethical values of the kingdom.” Saudi filmgoers should expect films with sexual content and scenes of characters consuming alcohol to be censored, if not outright banned.
The licensing process for cinemas will begin within the next 90 days. After 35 long years, Saudis can finally enjoy the moviegoing experiences of the person behind them kicking the seat, or parents unable to find a babysitter bringing their screaming and crying infants to the theater.