A commercial movie theater opened Wednesday in Saudi Arabia’s capital city of Riyadh ― ending a nearly 40-year ban on public cinemas in the deeply conservative country.
The theater, a converted concert hall, hosted a glitzy, invitation-only screening of the Marvel Studios film “Black Panther” attended by government officials and foreign dignitaries. Members of the general public will be able to purchase tickets on Thursday for Friday showings, according to Reuters.
The U.S.-based AMC Theatres operates the cinema. Earlier this month, the company announced it had signed a deal with the Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, to open and operate up to 40 theaters in the country over the next five years.
Government censors will review movies before they’re shown at Saudi theaters. A kissing scene in “Black Panther” was reportedly cut from the film for Wednesday’s screening.
Men and women will generally be allowed to sit together in theaters, The Associated Press reports, though some screenings will be reserved for a male-only crowd. The country’s rules about gender segregation typically split customers into a men-only section and a “family” section reserved for women and their male relatives.
Saudi Arabian public movie theaters began shutting down in the late 1970s after the country adopted ultraconservative Islamic law. Saudi Arabia’s powerful conservative clerics claimed Western movies did not meet their hard-line interpretations of Islam.
The new push for theaters is part of a larger package of economic and social reforms being promoted by the country’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The government hopes the re-introduction of movie theaters will add more than $24 billion to the economy by 2030.
Saudia Arabians have long been able to watch Western television and films on their computers, phones and through satellite television. In recent years, the country has also hosted local film festivals and screenings in makeshift theaters. But in order to watch a movie at a theater with a public crowd, Saudi Arabians would have to travel to nearby countries like the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
“This is a historic day for your country,” Adam Aron, CEO of AMC Entertainment, said at the “Black Panther” premiere. “It’s been about 37 years since you’ve been able to watch movies the way movies are meant to be watched in a theater, together on a big screen.”
For more images from Saudi Arabians’ day at the movies, scroll through the slideshow below.