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Saudi Arabia's first cinema in 35 years opens with Black Panther screening

Saudi Arabia's first cinema in 35 years opens with Black Panther screening

The opening marks another milestone for reforms spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to open the country culturally and diversify the economy of the world's top oil exporter.

It has been an invitation only gala event that comes after the conservative Kingdom lifted the ban on cinemas past year as part of a far reaching liberalization drive being called as Enlightenment of the Kingdom, for which United States giant AMC Entertainment has been granted the first license to operate movie theaters.

On social media, many Saudis complained that the ticket price of 75 Saudi riyals (USD 20), which included a new entertainment tax and value-added tax introduced this year, was too exorbitant in an age of austerity. It will include the first IMAX screen to exhibit movies and VOX KIDS, the concept designed especially for young movie fans.

"If Allah forbade it, and the ruler allowed it, who do you follow?"

The Development and Investment Entertainment Company (DIEC), a wholly owned subsidiary of Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF), will oversee the historic launch of the Kingdom's first public cinema in collaboration with AMC Entertainment at a newly set up cinema complex at King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD) in Riyadh.

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There has been little apparent domestic resistance to the social changes that seemed unthinkable just a few years ago, though the space for criticism is severely limited. Several prominent clerics were arrested previous year in an apparent bid to silence dissent.

The Kingdom has ended a almost 40-year ban on commercial cinemas, which were shuttered in the early1980s but are returning through a modernizing drive by the reform-minded Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense. "This is a historic day for your country, Welcome to the era when movies can be watched by Saudis not in Bahrain, not in Dubai, not in London... but inside the Kingdom".

To serve a population of more than 32 million, most of whom are under the age of 30, the authorities plan to set up around 350 cinemas with over 2,500 screens by 2030, which they hope will attract almost US$1 billion in annual ticket sales.

Initial screenings are likely to be for families, with occasional ones for bachelors, Reuters reported.

Asked about possible conservative backlash to cinemas, Awwad said the government was focused on creating investment opportunities. It was earlier said by the Officials that movie theaters are expected to open to the public in May. "And for those who don't want to watch movies at all, it's also their personal choice".