Film test

Saudi Arabia to host cinema trial screening with ‘Black Panther’

Anticipation grows in Riyadh ahead of opening of movie theaters in May as part of modernization drive

A promotional image for the “Black Panther” film. (Chadwick Boseman/Facebook)
A promotional image for the “Black Panther” film. (Chadwick Boseman/Facebook)

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Blockbuster action flick “Black Panther” will play at a cinema test screening in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, the first in a series of trial runs before movie theaters open to the wider public next month.

The conservative kingdom lifted a 35-year ban on cinemas last year as part of a far-reaching liberalization drive, with US giant AMC Entertainment granted the first license to operate movie theaters.

Anticipation had been building after the authorities announced earlier this month that Saudi Arabia’s first cinema in over three decades would open on Wednesday in Riyadh.

But officials this week said it would be a test screening at the new cinema in the King Abdullah Financial District and movie theaters are expected to open to the public in May.

“It will be the first in a series of test screenings, attended by industry specialists, that will be held…to support final preparations for the opening of the cinema to the wider public,” said the information ministry’s Center for International Communication.

AMC Entertainment, whose chief executive Adam Aron will attend Wednesday’s screening, signed a non-binding agreement in December with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund to build and operate cinemas across the kingdom.

Saudi state media has said the company expects to open 40 cinemas across 15 Saudi cities over the next five years.

International theater chains have long eyed the kingdom as the Middle East’s last untapped mass market of more than 30 million people, the majority of whom are under 25.

AMC will still face stiff competition from other heavyweights including Dubai-based VOX Cinemas, the leading operator in the Middle East.

The move to reopen cinemas is part of a modernization drive by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is seeking to balance unpopular subsidy cuts in an era of low oil prices with more entertainment options — despite opposition from religious hardliners.

Long known for its ultra-conservative mores, the kingdom has embarked on a wide-ranging program of social reforms that includes boosting sports and entertainment and allowing women to drive from June.

In February, Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority announced it will stage more than 5,000 festivals and concerts in 2018, double the number of last year, and pump $64 billion in the sector in the coming decade.

The reform stems partly from an economic motive to boost domestic spending on entertainment as the kingdom reels from an oil slump since 2014.

Saudis currently splurge billions of dollars annually to see films and visit amusement parks in neighboring tourist hubs like Dubai.

Most Popular
read more: