Arts

Saudi Arabia lifts ban on movie theaters and this director says it's about time

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Saudi religious men stand near a poster of the first Saudi film "Menhai" at its opening at King Fahad Center in Riyadh June 6, 2009.

Saudi religious men stand near a poster of the first Saudi film "Menhai" at its opening at King Fahad Center in Riyadh June 6, 2009.

Credit:

Fahad Shadeed/Reuters

For the last 35 years, movie theaters have been banned in Saudi Arabia. That changed on Monday when Saudi Arabia announced it would allow cinemas to open as early as March.

It's the latest gesture towards modernization by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is also behind measures to permit women to drive and to bring back concerts.

When Saudi director Haifaa al-Mansour heard the news, she excitedly took to Twitter:

Mansour is the first female director out of Saudi Arabia. Her 2012 film, "Wadjda," about an 11-year-old-girl growing up outside of Riyadh who dreams of owning a bike, was the first movie to be submitted by Saudi Arabia to the Academy Awards.

Mansour says movies were her lifeline growing up in Saudi Arabia. She remembers standing outside a local Blockbuster Video as a kid, waiting for the man who worked there to fetch her movie selections for her. Women weren't allowed inside the store, she said, because it was considered "a corrupt place."

"I come from a small town in Saudi Arabia. And the boredom ... I can't even explain it!" she says. "So it was wonderful to see a lot of movies as a kid, and be part of the big world ...  to experience big emotions like falling in love or people fighting for their countries."

Movies, she says, are so important in a place like Saudi Arabia. "People need to embrace the love of life and just have fun. And in that way, we can fight extremist ideology."

To hear Haifaa al-Mansour talk more about the lifting of the movie theater ban in Saudi Arabia, click on the play button above.

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