We have known it to be the case for weeks, but until last night Disney, AMC Cinemas and Saudi Arabia hadn't officially confirmed that Black Panther would open cinemas in the kingdom tonight.
AMC chief executive Adam Aron provided the words we had been waiting for overnight: Black Panther will be the first movie to screen in a public cinema in Saudi for about four decades – and it will do so tonight.
Aron, whose company will operate the first cinema in Saudi following the relaxation of rules banning public cinemas, told CNN: "We are showing Black Panther, the third most successful movie of all time in the United States, and it will air, about 19 hours from now, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. A historic day, the first time in 35 years that cinemas have functioned in Saudi Arabia."
This morning, Saudi Arabia's Minister of Culture and Information, Dr Awwad Alawwad, added his own voice in a statement from Saudi Arabia's Centre for International Communication, following a tour of the new cinema on Tuesday. "We are very happy to be part of this historic moment – the showing of the first commercial film in the kingdom after more than 35 years," he said.
“I just inspected the venue and it looks great; everything is on track for the Wednesday evening film showing. I know for sure that Saudis are very eager to be able to watch their favourite films here in their own country, as now made possible by Vision 2030.”
The new cinema, in a building originally designated to be a concert hall in Riyadh’s King Abdullah Financial District, currently has just one screen, meaning guests at tonight’s premiere, and future screenings for the next few weeks, will be limited to invited guests, including international diplomatic corps.
However, AMC hopes to open a further three screens in the building by the third quarter of this year, while Dubai-based Vox Cinemas is also reportedly set to open its first cinema in the kingdom, possibly by the end of this month.
As for future movies, sources suggest that another Marvel movie, Avengers: Infinity War, which is released next weekend, will follow Black Panther onto Saudi screens, though once again, Marvel, Disney and AMC are yet to confirm this.
When asked about future content, and how censorship may affect programming, Aron said: “We’re going to show typical Hollywood movies that are popular in US and Europe and elsewhere in the world. We have been showing movies in the Middle East for a long time and proven that we can be sensitive to the local culture in the region, and we’re confident that the big movies in the US are going to be successful in Saudi, too.”
Vision 2030 has established a goal of increasing annual Saudi spending on cultural and entertainment activities. The kingdom aims to have nearly 350 cinemas, with more than 2,500 screens, by 2030.