Saudi Arabia set for first public film screening at cinema

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Tickets for the American superhero movie Black Panther went on sale online at midnight for 75 riyals (S$26) and sold out within minutes.

Reopening movie theatres is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's ambitious reform drive as he seeks to balance unpopular subsidy cuts in an era of low oil prices with more entertainment options - despite the risk of riling hardliners.

Many Saudis have rejoiced at the end of the cinema ban, sharing praise and pictures of Prince Mohammed on social media. "That might sound familiar to some of you", Aron also joked giving hint that young prince could be regarded parallel to the crown prince as Black Panther is a film about a young monarch of a fictional African jungle kingdom.

The region's most innovative and now largest cinema operator, Vox Cinema, announced that it has applied and obtained a license to run theaters in Saudi Arabia, announcing that it will be opening its first screen in the Saudi capital Riyadh in the next few days.

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Others expressed confusion at what they consider a government flip-flop, with one tweeting on Wednesday: "Remember you will stand in front of God ... and you will bear the sins of all those who watched the movies". The powers of the religious police that once patrolled the streets were curbed in 2016, and prominent clerics and activists have been arrested in an apparent bid to silence conservative dissent. VOX Cinemas is honored to deliver our world-class portfolio of viewing experiences and premium concepts unrivaled anywhere else in Saudi Arabia.

The Kingdom has ended a almost 40-year ban on commercial cinemas, which were shuttered in the early1980s but are returning through a modernizing drive by the reform-minded Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense.

"Welcome to the era when movies can be watched by Saudis not in Bahrain, not in Dubai, not in London. but inside the kingdom", Aron said Wednesday at the launch of the theatre.

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 US$1 billion in annual ticket sales.

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A source told Reuters last month that theaters would not be segregated by gender like most other public places in Saudi Arabia. Initial screenings are likely to be for families, with occasional ones for bachelors.

To celebrate the landmark event, the theater was filled with the country's most honored officials and icons, such as government representatives, ministers, diplomats, and celebrities.

The choice of movie was not random.

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