Saudi Arabia Breaks 35-Year Cinema Ban With Historic 'Black Panther' Screening

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Saudi Arabia opened its first commercial cinema in 35 years on Wednesday, showcasing Marvel's Black Panther to senior government officials, dignitaries and select industry figures.

"AMC has been extraordinarily impressed by the imagination to move Saudi Arabia forward as detailed in Vision 2030, and we have been emboldened by the professional, gracious and warm welcome we have received from the Ministry of Culture and Information, from the Public Investment Fund and from every Saudi institution and individual with whom we have been in contact", Adam Aron, CEO AMC Entertainment, said in a news release. The audience could choose between male-only, female-only and mixed screenings.

Tickets go on sale Thursday.

"Saudis now are going to be able to go to a handsome theater and watch movies the way they're supposed to be watched: on a big screen", he told Reuters ahead of the screening.

Moviegoers wait to attend an invitation-only screening, at the King Abdullah Financial District Theater, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 18, 2018.

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Despite decades of ultra-conservative dogma, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has sought to ram through a number of major social reforms with support from his father, King Salman.

The prince, 32, has already eased restrictions in the last two years, on such matters as permitting public concerts and allowing women to drive and attend sports events.

The kingdom banned cinemas in the early 1980s under pressure from religious scholars as Saudi society embraced an ultraconservative form of Islam.

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 $1 billion in annual ticket sales. Scenes of violence are not cut, but scenes involving nudity, sex or even kissing often do get axed. The Hollywood Reporter reports that 40 seconds of "Black Panther" was edited out of the screening, but could not elaborate on specifics.

She said she and her friends used to go to the movies overseas, like many Saudis who would flock to neighboring Bahrain or the United Arab Emirates on weekends to see the latest flicks.