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This image released by Disney shows a scene from Marvel Studios' "Black Panther."
Matt Kennedy/Marvel Studios-Disney/AP

Saudi Arabia Ends Its 35-Year Ban on Movie Theaters with 'Black Panther' Screening

Two months after its premiere, “Black Panther” can’t stop — and won’t stop — breaking records.

The film is already the highest-grossing superhero movie in the history of the US, the highest-grossing film by a black director (Ryan Coogler), and the most-tweeted about movie of all time. Now, the comic book-adaptation has become the first film to be shown in a commerical movie theater in Saudi Arabia in 35 years.

On Wednesday, the country's first new theater held a gala opening and screening of the Hollywood blockbuster. Though the event was invite-only, a Saudi official said the theater would open to the public on May 1.

Though Saudi Arabia once had public movie theaters, they were shuttered in the 80s as the country turned more conservative. However, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced last year that the country would lift its ban on movie theaters as part of a set of sweeping economic and social reforms known as the “Vision 2030.”

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Saudi Arabia began screening films earlier this year in makeshift tent theaters, but Wednesday's screening of "Black Panther" marks the first time a film has played in an actual movie theater for over three decades.

The overturn of the ban is intended to stimulate economic activity by creating jobs in theaters and boosting spending at cinemas and nearby businesses, Vox reported.

Influential religious figures in Saudi Arabia have criticized the move, arguing that opening movie theaters will corrupt morals and encourage “depravity,” according to the Guardian. In light of these views, the Ministry of Culture has said that it will censor films so that they do not “contradict with Sharia laws and moral values.”

But many people are excited about the reversal of the ban. One gala attendee told the New York Times that she would have come to see the movie regardless of what was being shown.

Both men and women attended the premiere and seating was not segregated by gender. Unlike most other public spaces in Saudi Arabia, Saudi officials have said that movie theaters will not be gender segregated, instead moviegoers will be allowed to choose between mixed and single-sex screenings.

Read more: 'Black Panther' Just Shattered Another Record

Along with lifting the ban on movie theaters, Prince Mohammed has also incrementally given Saudi women more freedom in the last year. Though the country’s male guardianship system remains in place and still requires women to secure the permission of their husband or a male family member to do things like open a bank account, travel, or undergo elective surgery, they are now able to drive, attend sporting events, and work a wider range of jobs.

Despite these expanded freedoms, there is still a long way to go before the country can claim to have gender equality.

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