Black Panther is First Movie in Saudi Cinemas in 35 Years
Black Panther is racking up milestone after milestone. It is currently the fourth best selling movie of all time, beating Jurassic Park. It has achieved numerous accolades. Now, Black Panther is poised to break another ceiling. On April 18th, the movie will open in Saudi Arabia. It will be the first movie to be seen in a cinema in that country in 35 years.
In the 1980s, the ultra-conservative Islamic nation banned cinemas from operating in the country. However, due to the policies of the current Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, this is changing. As part of the Crown Prince’s attempts to modernize Saudi Arabia, a new AMC theater is opening in the capital city, Riyadh. The theater, according to Variety, was originally to be a concert hall. It will have balcony and orchestra seating, leather seats, and marble bathrooms. AMC Entertainment plans to open up more movie theaters in Saudi Arabia, up to 40 in the next five years. Other theater operators are planning moves as well.
Islamic Fundamentalism Meets Hollywood
Saudi Arabia is a fundamentalist Muslim nation, with strict laws based on the Wahabi school of Islam. The Crown Prince has made reforms to loosen these laws. However, he has also had several personal and political rivals arrested and held in a makeshift, yet fancy, prison at the Ritz Carlton. Studios do not think this is a big problem, as Saudi Arabia is a vast untapped market for them. With 70% of the affluent country being under 30, studios have an untapped goldmine. Some analysts are predicting a possible $1 billion in revenues.
However, it is unknown whether studios will have to edit their films for this new market. There is also the risk of having to curry favor with the Arab “street.” In 2017, several Arab countries banned or attempted to ban Warner Brothers/DC Entertainment’s Wonder Woman. This was due to star Gal Gadot being Israeli and having served in the IDF.
As Saudi Arabia opens itself up more to the Western world, more films will arrive in the insular kingdom. What untold riches await studios? For the studios, an untapped audience is worth more than a mountain of Vibranium.