Saudi to open first mixed-sex cinema

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Saudi to open first mixed-sex cinema

The "Black Panther" gala will mark the first public screening in the kindgom after movie theaters where banned in the early 1980's, after Saudi Arabia adopted ultraconservative religious standards in 1979. A successful reform campaign headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman-who hopes to revamp and modernize Saudi society-resulted in the ban's end past year.

Saudi Arabia's minister of culture and information, Dr. Awwad Alawwad, hailed the first cinema operating license as "the opening of very significant opportunities for exhibitors".

AMC's first theatre will open in Riyadh. Other theater chains such as iPic Entertainment and Imax Corp. - which now operates the only (non-commercial) cinema screen in the kingdom, at the Sultan Abdulaziz Science and Technology Center in Khobar - are also looking to take advantage of the opening.

The lavish theatre will have balcony levels and marble bathrooms.

"We think it's going to be the prettiest movie theater in the world", AMC Chief Executive Adam Aron said in an interview. "It's a dramatic building".

The people of Saudi Arabia are fans of Western media and culture, but such things have had to be enjoyed privately at home until now. The Public Investment Fund is poised to take a US$400 million stake in the Hollywood talent agency Endeavor as part of plans to diversify the kingdom's oil-based economy.

The move for opening the movie theatres would open the local market with the yearly ticket sales of about $ 1 billion which is what that urges other leading movie chains eager to enter the Gulf region's largest market.

The first screen to open will be in the King Abdullah Financial District of the capital, and a source told Reuters news agency the first film shown would be Marvel superhero blockbuster Black Panther.

Questions remain about what kinds of movies Saudi Arabia will tolerate, and if moviegoers will be segregated by gender.

Global theatre chains have long eyed the kingdom as the Middle East's last untapped mass market of more than 30 million people, the majority of whom are under 25.

In terms of the types of films, he said that AMC will exhibit all major releases from Hollywood studios that "are appropriate for the Middle East".

Separately, Six Flags Entertainment said it planned to develop a theme park in Riyadh in partnership with PIF.

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