A paradigm shift took place in Saudi Arabia this week. Families and friends gather around movie posters taking selfies, holding popcorns and frizzy drinks, excited for what is to come, soaking up an experience that for years was denied – a trip to the cinema!
Although it sounds pretty mundane it is actually a novel and historical moment in the Saudis life, a huge step towards modernization/ normalization. Saudi is moving at a lightening pace, words are quickly getting converted into actions bringing a huge wave of optimism to the country. Witnessing changes that go beyond the religious establishment and the ideology of the country brings a sense of hope to such an overwhelmingly young population.
As I mentioned in my previous post – The rise of the entertainment industry in Saudi Arabia – this wider changes across the kingdom are part of a major economic reform set by the crown prince, also President of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs. The wealth and power fueled by their own industrial revolution in the 20 century is now coming to an end with the realization that oil funds won’t be enough to fund government spending and create new jobs. It is indeed impossible to overstate the changes MbS is doing to his nation!
A trip to the Cinema
Past Monday I headed with some friends to KAFD Conference Center in Riyadh to witness this historical moment. The building on itself is a state of art, very modern and sophisticated which added some glamour to the experience (see the video bellow). But was the sense of delight and excitement on everyone’s face that made this moment so unique. From the costumers to the staff there was an atmosphere of celebration, happiness and joy. There was no way you could not sense the state of singularity of the moment!
To acquire tickets for the coming sessions press the link bellow: https://cinema.noon.com/en-sa/
AMC Entertainment was conceded the privilege to open the first theater hosting the movie ‘’Black Panther’’. Certainly not an innocent choice!
The film was preceded by a coca-cola commercial where a Saudi girl was driving a car and also a short message from MbS recognizing that Saudi needs a paradigm change after so many decades of an ultra conservative religious ideology.
Black Panther – A clever and strategical choice
Spoiler alert!!! Very briefly, for those who did not watch the movie, it is about a young crown king who rules a fictional African nation named Wakanda, a kingdom which possess a remarkable level of wealth, technological development and prosperity. The rulers of the country have always kept its existence secret in order to protect the kingdom and its people and now, the young king of Wakanda faces the challenge of having to decide whether to hide his kingdom greatness from the outside world or engage with it in either war or humanitarian efforts. Does it sound any different from what is happening in Saudi ?
The young king ‘’Black Panther’’ portrayed as an outlier resembles the young Crown Prince MbS and his more open vision to the world. Saudi Arabia, just as Wakanda is a kingdom that stands out due to its stability comparing with its neighbour countries, financial strength and strong foreign relations. Also engaging with the outside world is one of the challenges that Saudi is facing due to its singular ideology, religious establishment as well as given the turbulence and civil wars surrounding Saudi.
Also the fact, that the movie is about a superhero fighting for his kingdom, surrounded by women empowered as warriors reflect the vision of the crown prince on increasing the presence of the women in the workforce, as well as emerging as active economic and social actors on the process of Saudi Arabia development. Although still at the bottom of the world list on gender parity, Saudi Arabia showed to be the most improved country comparing with its start point. Indeed there is still a lot to be done, consider that women are yet seen as second degree citizens and require a male guardian to make a range of critical decisions on her behalf.
Saudi is indeed becoming more vibrant, diverse and fun. Although some of these changes are just very superficial in a country with critical human rights records, we cannot deny that Saudi is moving rapidly towards a more alluring and dynamic society.
I feel extremely privileged to be able to witness Saudis evolving, adapting and welcoming this rapid transformation taking place while still contacting with a deeply rooted ideology. This is the time where you can still live the past, experience the present transformation while visualizing the great potential of what Saudi has to become!