After the siege of the Grand Mosque in Makkah by Saudi religious extremists, the government of Saudi Arabia chose the ultra-conservative route. This included the ban on cinemas in 1983. After 35 years, the first cinema in Saudia Arabia opened on April 18, 2018, but what was the first film shown?
After a 35-year ban on cinemas in Saudi Arabia, the first movie ever shown since the ban was the animation “The Emoji Movie.” The film was aired in a cultural center because there were no permanent theaters that had opened yet.
Why Was There A Ban on Cinemas in Saudi Arabia?
Hard-line clerics banned theaters in Saudi Arabia in 1983. This was after the government took an ultra-conservative stance after the siege of the Grand Mosque in Makkah. The seizure happened during November and December 1979. Saudi religious extremists were calling to overthrow the House of Saud. They claimed that the Madhi or the redeemer of Islam had arrived in the form of one of their leaders – Mohammed Abdullah Al-Qahtani.
The Saudi Army, with the advice of French commandos, fought the extremist group for almost two weeks before they were able to reclaim the Grand Mosque. After this, the Saudi Government took ultra-conservative measures. (Source: The Age of Sacred Terror)
Who Decided to Re-Open Cinemas in Saudi Arabia?
Reopening the movie theaters is a part of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s drive to modernize the country. As part of this, he also allowed women to drive, which created more businesses and job opportunities for young people, especially for Saudis themselves.
Saudis enjoyed the entertainment scene that they would often be seen flocking to neighboring cities like Dubai or Bahrain to attend concerts or watch new films. Lifting the ban against cinemas would encourage people to spend their money in Saudi Araba, which will, in turn, help the economy. (Source: NPR)
The Emoji Movie
In December 2018, after the 35-year ban, a screening for the Emoji Movie was held at the cultural center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It was the first of the double-feature. They also showed Captain Underpants on the same weekend. These animated films may not be the most critically acclaimed movies of 2017, but the screening was still a historic move for the country.
We tried to use these films to be a starting point as the first cinematic screening.Mamdouh Salim, Organizer
According to other reports, the Saudi government expects to open at least 300 theaters within the next two decades. But one thing is for sure, all films and movies shown will need to be subjected to censorship standards set forth by the Ministry of Culture and Information.
All films will be subjected to censorship based on the media policy of the kingdom.Ministry of Culture and Information
(Source: The Verge)
Filmmakers in Saudi Arabia Rejoice at the End of the Ban
Abdulrahman Khawj, the founder of Cinepoetics Production Company, is just one of the many film enthusiasts who is completely elated by the end of the band.
For me, it’s fantastic. I no longer want to flee the country and go to New York. Here we’re doing something very new. They permit people to shoot stuff for YouTube, for TV, but not movies. So we were the first to get a permit to shoot a feature film in 2016. That’s what they told us in the ministry.Abdulrahman Khawj, Cinepoetics Production Company