Cartoons herald return of cinema to Saudi Arabia
After an absence of about 20 years, cinema will make a tentative return to Saudi Arabia next month with a screening of cartoons for an audience of women and children. A one-hour programme of foreign cartoons dubbed into Arabic will be shown at a hotel in Riyadh three times a night for two weeks, starting from November 2 or 3, when the holy month of Ramadan ends.
The organisers, who secured an agreement with the municipal authorities, are hoping 50 000 people will attend.
Showing films aimed exclusively at women and children sidesteps religious demands for gender segregation.
Although the kingdom apparently has no law against cinemas, screening of films died out during the 1970s and 1980s as ultra-conservative clerics gained influence.
Ferej Alowedi, the charge d’affaires at the Saudi embassy in London, said: “In the 1970s many of the films that were being distributed were often very offensive to our conservative society and people stopped showing films. Things have changed. There is a lot more television and many beautiful films are being produced. For some time we have been able to hire and buy videos in Saudi Arabia. The opening of cinemas is natural.”
The experiment is seen as a prelude to the start of real cinema screenings, according to the Saudi-owned Arabic daily, al-Hayat. Mai Yamani, a Saudi-born writer and academic, recalls watching films in the kingdom during the early 1970s, in mixed audiences where women had their faces unveiled. But there was a backlash after the assassination of King Faisal in 1975.
“He was too much of a moderniser for the clerics. He had introduced TV,” she said. “This is a good step because women don’t only want to go shopping for food. They are thought of as very sensitive and emotional and mustn’t be led astray. I’m sure they [the authorities] will make sure there isn’t anything in the cartoon films to excite them too much.
“These are small steps that King Abdullah is trying to take to live up to his reputation as the champion of reformers,” she said.
“He is giving these small measures because he is unable to address some of the very big issues, such as who to appoint as defence minister.” - Guardian Unlimited Â