Wakanda has come to Saudi Arabia. Black Panther premiered Wednesday night in Riyadh, ending the country’s 35-year ban on public film screenings. The premiere took place in a converted symphony hall in Riyadh’s King Abdullah Financial District, where a packed crowd took in the groundbreaking Marvel film. This marks a major cultural shift in Saudi Arabia, where movie theaters were closed following an ultraconservative wave of Islam in the 1980s. The ban was lifted by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose efforts to reform and modernize the conservative country included lifting the ban on women drivers in September of last year.
Awwad Alawwad, the Saudi minister of culture and information, said of the premiere, “The return of cinema to Saudi Arabia marks an important moment in the Kingdom’s modern-day history and cultural life, as well as in the development of the Kingdom’s entertainment industry. Cinema has always played an important role in bringing cultures together, and Saudi Arabia is ready to play its part.”
As reported by The Hollywood Reporter, Prince Mohammed has signed a deal with AMC to open up to 100 theaters in the country, as part of a larger plan to boost the economy and bring new jobs to the region. Though the premiere featured men and women sitting together, it is unclear whether future screenings will segregate the audience by gender. While Saudi Arabia has a long way to go in its treatment of women, it is thrilling that a generation of female moviegoers’ first experience at the cinema will be seeing the Dora Milaje storming the screen.