On the heels of a landmark decision that finally gave women the right to drive, The New York Times reports that Saudi Arabia has decided to allow movie theaters to open for the first time in 35 years.
In an effort led by crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, access to movie theaters will officially kick off in early 2018. The Times notes that satellite TV and on-demand viewing may have rendered movie theaters obsolete in the country, but this move is still significant for “[highlighting] the diminishing power of the kingdom’s conservative clerics” in Saudi Arabia. The grand mufti, who’s the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia, has denounced cineplexes as a source of “depravity,” and has long been opposed to movie theater openings.
Saudia Arabia’s Culture and Information Ministry has already issued a statement on the decision, in which it notes that “the content of the shows will be subjected to censorship based on the media policy of the kingdom.” Furthermore, “the shows will be in line with the values and principles, and will include enriching content that is not contrary to Sharia laws and ethical values of the kingdom.” The publication cites a scholar who calls the shift “very real and quite significant,” both culturally and economically speaking. The opening of movie theaters is part of a plan to move the country away from economic dependence on oil. The movie theater openings will create new jobs in both the individual businesses as well as for the censors who will eventually be hired to edit the films.