HomeNewsSaudis Relax Restrictions on Movie Industry, Attracting Filmgoers from Region

Saudis Relax Restrictions on Movie Industry, Attracting Filmgoers from Region

@Photo by Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures/Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures – © 2023 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Barbie may be a blockbuster in the West, but not so in the Middle East, where local censorship restrictions have made the film cinema non grata in several countries.

Over the years, thousands of film lovers in the region have routinely had to travel beyond their national borders to see the movies they favored—unless they were unable to obtain pirated DVDs on the black market. In 2012, the mayor of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia reported that more than 200,000 Saudis had flown to the United Arab Emirates in 2010 just to watch banned films.

But Saudi Arabia has since relaxed its once-draconian regulations. In 2017, it lifted a ban on cinemas that had been in place for 35 years.

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Today, the country is experiencing rapid growth in theater construction, with multiplexes beginning to open throughout the kingdom.
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The shift has been dramatic, with residents of neighboring countries now flocking to Saudi Arabia to see the films they can’t enjoy at home.

Barbie is one of them. The film started playing in Saudi cinemas on August 10, with many theaters screening it more than ten times a day. Many of the attendees are coming from Kuwait, where Barbie was banned for promoting “ideas and beliefs that are alien to the Kuwaiti society and public order.” Lafy Al-Subei’e, who chairs the country’s film censorship board, further declared that the film carried “ideas that encourage unacceptable behavior and distort society’s values.”

And in Lebanon, culture minister Mohammad Mortada argued that it “promotes homosexuality” and “contradicts values of faith and morality” in its denigration of traditional family values.

The relaxed stance by Saudi Arabia has prompted at least one Kuwaiti blogger to post detailed instructions about “How to Watch Barbie if You Live in Kuwait.” Posted on 248.com, the blog suggested that Kuwaitis travel to the Saudi cities of Al-Jubail, Dammam, and Al Khobar.

“If you’ve never driven to Saudi before, it’s super easy,” wrote the blogger.
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“You also don’t have to worry about [a] visa since any resident of Kuwait can get one.”

Check out more of Edward’s articles

Edward Moran
Edward Moranhttps://www.cinemadailyus.com
Edward Moran began his journalistic career many decades ago as a theater and cinema reviewer for Show Business and the New York Theater Review. More recently he contributed film reviews to hosokinema.com and Movie Sleuth. His writings have appeared in publications as diverse as the Times Literary Supplement, Publishers Weekly, the Paris Review, and the Massachusetts Review. Moran also edited a memoir by Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Christine Choy. He served as literary advisor to her film Hyam Plutzik: American Poet, which was the keynote film in the American Perspectives series at the 2007 Zebra Poetry Film Festival in Berlin.

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