No one has gone to a commercial showing of a movie in Riyadh in over 30 years.
At least, not until last Saturday (6 June 2009), when the Saudi-made film Menahi showed at the King Fahd Cultural Centre. But, it took the nephew of King Abdullah to accomplish this event. Prince Alaweed bin Talal owns the Rotana Group, a Gulf-based entertainment company, which took the movie to Jeddah back in December and showed the film to a group including both men and women. However, it took over five months to get permission to show Menahi, a country boy in the big city film, in the city of Riyadh.
Conservative Muslim leaders oppose the showing of films from fear non-Muslim values will be introduced to the population, as well as due to the a fear that there might be gender mixing. While they failed to prevent the showing of the movie, they did succeed in blocking the attendance of women. Guards stood at entry ways to ensure no woman got into the theater, and attendees only learned about the showing hours prior to the debut. There were even protesters attempting to persuade men from attending.
Prince Alaweed is optimistic about the future of cinema in Saudi Arabia and is quoted as having said the public showing of movies in Saudi Arabia, on a regular basis, is inevitable.
What intrigues me is that, as a young minsterial student, I remember being told by a couple of very conservative preachers that movies were evil and introduced anti-Christian messages to the community; so, they should be avoided. This echoed in my mind as I read the news articles about Menahi, along with the memories of protests and boycotts associated with some films in the United States. I hope we never slip into a period where films are banned, and we have to wait 30 years in order to see another one. What a sad world it would be without movies.