It was the hottest ticket in Saudi Arabia — an invitation to a private screening of Black Panther in Riyadh.
On Wednesday, the first cinema to open in Saudi Arabia in more than 30 years welcomed excited moviegoers. In the 1980s, the kingdom prohibited public movie screenings, due to ultraconservative clerics labeling Western movies as sinful, but Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman lifted the ban amid a series of reforms. By 2030, Saudi Arabia plans on hosting 300 movie theaters with 2,000 screens.
Just two weeks ago, AMC signed a contract to open the inaugural theater, and public screenings are expected to start Friday. Government censors will have the final say on what moviegoers get to see — in Black Panther, a final scene featuring a kiss has been cut — and the theaters will likely be separated with women and related men sitting in the family section and single men in another. "It's a new era, a new age," moviegoer Rahaf Alhendi told The Associated Press. "It's that simple. Things are changing, progress is happening. We're opening up and we're catching up with everything that's happening in the world."