Saudi Arabia lifts the 35-year-old ban on cinemas

Ben Arnold
UK Movies Writer

Authorities in Saudi Arabia have announced that the ban on public cinemas will be lifted after more than 30 years.

The movies will return to the country in March, 2018, following news that the building of new cinema facilities in the capital of Riyadh was announced in October.

Cinemas have been banned since 1982, after clerics pressured the government into doing so.

It was among a number of measures taken that both discouraged public entertainment, and also the mixing of men and women.

Though some censorship of material could be possible, Deadline reports that the country’s General Entertainment Authority wants the new output to be ‘like 99% of what is going on in London and New York’.

“Opening cinemas will act as a catalyst for economic growth and diversification,” said the Minister of Culture and Information Awwad bin Saleh Alawwad.

“By developing the broader cultural sector we will create new employment and training opportunities, as well as enriching the Kingdom’s entertainment options.”

Alawwad added that it would be ‘a watershed moment in the development of the cultural economy in the Kingdom’.

It’s thought that by 2030, there could be over 300 cinemas in the country, with over 2000 screens in all, while the plans could bring in as much as $24 billion to the economy and create 30,000 jobs.

The British chain of cinemas Vue is among those who are aiming to get involved, its founder Tim Richards saying: “They have some incredible plans in place and we would very much like to be a part of that going forward.”

The move has been met with widespread approval.

Haifaa al-Mansour, the female Saudi director of the upcoming Mary Shelley and the country’s first Oscar contender Wadjda in 2013, called it ‘a beautiful day’.

It marks another notable shift in the culture of the ultra-conservative country.

In September, 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al-Saud, who is being seen as a more progressive force in the Saudi royal family, issued a royal decree that allowed women to drive for the first time.

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