After 35-year ban, Saudi Arabia to reopen cinemas in 2018

Emmett Rice
December 12, 2017

Saudi Arabia's main sovereign wealth fund said it planned to enter the cinema business with major US -based movie exhibition company AMC Entertainment Holdings, as the conservative kingdom lifts a 35-year-old ban on cinemas.

Minister for Culture and Information Awwad bin Saleh Alawwad said in a statement, "As the industry regulator, the General Commission for Audiovisual Media has started the process for licensing cinemas in the Kingdom". 32-year-old crown prince stated the goal of the program was to increase household spending on cultural and entertainment activities in the oil-dependent kingdom from 2.9% to 6% by 2030.

While Hollywood is celebrating the newly announced Golden Globe nominations, Saudi Arabia is celebrating something very different: a new law that will once again allow movie theaters to operate. Dubai-based mall operator Majid Al Futtaim, which owns VOX Cinemas, said it wanted to open the first movie theatre there. The projected revenue is 90 billion riyals (or $24 billion), which will be bolstered by the creation of more than 30,000 jobs, the A.P. notes. In addition, it is still unclear whether cinemas will largely cater to Hollywood, Bollywood, or Saudi Arabian films, and whether theaters will segregate women and men.

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The move was highly welcomed by filmmaking community, who have long argued that ban on cinemas does not make sense in the age of YouTube.

"It's spectacular news. We are in a state of shock", Saudi actor and producer Hisham Fageeh tweeted. He apparently has support from his father, King Salman, to address a number of social reforms.

The development is coming about three months after the government granted Saudi women the right to drive cars for the first time in history. However, he has also arrested several clerics and activists and detained senior princes and businessmen in what the government calls an anti-corruption campaign.

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