First Saudi Arabia cinema opens with popcorn and 'Black Panther'

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Many view the move as necessary given people's widespread access to online streaming services such as YouTube and Netflix and a growing demand for access to movie theaters nationwide.

Saudi Arabia said past year that movies "will be subject to censorship according to media policy standards of the Kingdom", to ensure they comply with Saudi values and principles and do not contradict Sharia, or Islamic, law.

"Saudis now are going to be able to go to a attractive theater and watch movies the way they're supposed to be watched: on a big screen", he told Reuters ahead of the screening. "VOX Cinemas will join a growing stable of Majid Al Futtaim's leading retail, leisure and entertainment brands operating across the Kingdom".

Majid Al Futtaim's announcement comes a day after the first movie screening in the kingdom, which showed Walt Disney's global blockbuster Black Panther, a film about a young king coming to power in the fictional land of Wakanda. Promised reforms include allowing Saudi women to drive, the continued showing of movies subject to government approval, and allowing men and women to attend fashion shows.

Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who serves as the deputy prime minister and minister of defense, promised an era of reform in the country, according to The Associated Press.

The first theater - operated by AMC Entertainment Holdings - was launched this week, with public viewings expected to start on Friday.

The coming months would see three more screens planned.

AMC, which is owned by Chinese property and entertainment conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group, has plans to open at least 30 cinemas across the kingdom in the next five years.

Over the past several years, Saudi Arabia has gradually been loosening restrictions on movie screenings, with local film festivals and screenings in makeshift theaters. For the most part, though, until now Saudis who wanted to watch a film in a movie theater had to drive to nearby Bahrain or the United Arab Emirates for weekend trips to the cinema.

Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi writer, describes the theaters of the 1970s as being "like American drive-ins, except much more informal".

By the 1980s, movie screenings were largely banned unless they took place in private residential compounds for foreigners or at cultural centers run by foreign embassies. The country's rules about gender segregation typically split customers into a men-only section and a "family" section reserved for women and their male relatives. "Meanwhile, we want to provide people with a attractive show and really enjoy watching their own movies", Saudi Minister of Culture and Information Awwad Alawwad told the AP.