05 November 2005

Cinema Saudi Arabia

I don't normally comment on the culture of a country I haven't even visited, but I'll make an exception in this case.

The local newspapers provide good coverage of the goings-on in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, so we can follow its slow and painful movement towards becoming a more modern and liberal country. Most people know that women are not allowed to drive (although a government official was quoted as admitting that some do in rural areas - which would cover most of Saudi), and recently a law was passed that allows women to work in any part of the economy "according to their nature", whatever that means.

But I was still surprised to read that this Eid celebration will see the first public film screenings in Saudi Arabia in 30 years. Apparently the depiction of the human form has been considered immoral and the US-dominated film industry with its emphasis on sex and violence is specially bad (there's a discussion for the next film studies course). There is a lot of opposition to film screenings from religious traditionalists, who consider film to be the thin end of the wedge, despite the fact that only children's cartoons are going to be shown and audiences will be segregated.

In another revolutionary move women will be allowed to stage plays, although only with other women actors and in front of a female-only audience, which is not immoral according to Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Mohammad, mayor of Riyadh. I see an opportunity for some radical re-working of Shakespeare, taking on some of the issues desperately needing airing in Saudi. 12th Night, maybe?

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