Saudi Arabia has ended a 35-year ban on movie theaters with a private screening of the Hollywood blockbuster Black Panther.
The invitation-only screening, held Wednesday at a concert hall converted into a cinema complex in the capital, Riyadh, was attended by both women and men.
“This is a landmark moment in the transformation of Saudi Arabia into a more vibrant economy and society,” Saudi Minister of Culture and Information Awwad Alawwad said in statement ahead of the screening.
It’s a stark reversal for a country where public movie screenings were banned in the 1980s during a wave of ultraconservatism that swept Saudi Arabia. Many Saudi clerics view Western movies and even Arabic films made in Egypt and Lebanon as sinful.
The opening marked another milestone for reforms spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to open the country culturally and diversify the economy.
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 Saudi government projects there will be 300 movie theaters with around 2,000 screens built across the kingdom by 2030.
Movies screened in Saudi cinemas will be subject to approval by government censors, as is the case in other Arab countries. Scenes of violence are not cut, but scenes involving nudity, sex or even kissing often get axed.
It was not clear whether Black Panther underwent similar censorship for Wednesday’s screening.