Saudi Arabia has lifted its cinema ban and the first movie they screened was a bizarre choice
While there used to be plenty of movie theaters in Saudi Arabia, its government closed down all of them in the early 1980s, issuing a nationwide ban in an attempt to discourage their potentially corrupting influence. Seeing as they have upheld this ban for 35 years, it came as some surprise that they have recently ruled to bring them back, with the first screenings being held this week.
The conservative nation's Ministry of Culture and Information agreed to issue licenses for cinemas on December 11, as part of a larger scheme to boost the economy of the country and lessen the restrictions on its citizens. The first permanent movie theaters could open as soon as March this year, but in the meantime temporary cinemas are being set up.
The movies screened will be heavily censored, and given the country's track record for this sort of thing, there might be a long uphill battle to show certain movies. Mamdouh Salim, whose Cinema 70 brand organized initial week-long screenings in Jeddah, said:
“Until now, there is no infrastructure for movie theaters, so we are trying to take advantage of (alternative) venues to approximate the cinematic form”
“We tried to use these films to be a starting point as the first cinematic screening after the decision on Dec. 11 to permit movie theaters"
So what was the first movie to make it to Saudi Arabian screens in the 21st century? Well... it turned out to be The Emoji Movie.
This might have come as a disappointment to those who have been waiting 35 years, since the animation was one of the worst-reviewed movies of last year. The children's movie is about a city of talking emojis. It never sounded like a great idea, but similarly iffy ideas like making a movie about Lego worked out tremendously well. But it turns out most people weren't fans of it, as it currently has 9 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes and a 39 per cent audience score.
The release of the ban is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's 'Vision 2030', a collection of ambitious reforms to lessen the kingdom's dependence on oil and become more moderate.
The heir to the throne told the Guardian:
“What happened in the last 30 years is not Saudi Arabia. What happened in the region in the last 30 years is not the Middle East.”
“We are simply reverting to what we followed – a moderate Islam open to the world and all religions.”
The authorities expect to open 300 cinemas with 2,000 screens by 2030, bringing more money into the economy and more permanent jobs.
More changes are being made as a part of this Vision 2030 scheme, including women being given the right to drive - which will come into play on June 24 2018. It seems like these new changes are a step in the right direction for a country that has too long restricted its citizens in the name of moral living.