In 2018 Saudi Arabia opened its cinema doors for the first time in 35 years
In 2018 Saudi Arabia opened its cinema doors for the first time in 35 years. This was the start of the long term vision to boost cultural and entertainment spending in the Kingdom by 2030. As part of this 2030 vision Saudi Arabia aims to open 50-100 cinemas across the Kingdom and produce over 100 Saudi-led films. By the end of 2021 there were 53 venues across Saudi Arabia with multi-screen cinemas.
The global film industry has recognised the benefits of the Saudi Arabian market and how this initiative will access a new worldwide film viewing market.
We are seeing movements to ensure that negative stereotypes that have plagued our screens become a thing of the past. A study by USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative revealed that Muslims made up a mere 2% of all speaking characters across 200 top-grossing films.
With Saudi Arabia opening its doors there has been a substantial shift, which will promote Muslim culture and heritage on our screens. This presents a lucrative market that many film investors and financiers will see as a significant opportunity. In 2021 all 340 new feature films were released in Saudi Arabian cinemas, the top grossing being the Egyptian comedy film Waafet Reggaala (A Stand Worthy of Men) pulling in $15m. The Saudi theatrical box office market grew by 95% in 2021 totalling $238m. This trajectory of growth is predicted to continue into 2022.
People of every culture, creed and colour have a story to tell, stories will resonate with viewers who see themselves in the characters. Which is why we need to see that stories from every heritage and background are produced and released.
2022 could be the year in which Muslim based films come to the forefront. In 2021 the short film BABA, a story about a queer Libyan man, won the Best British award and Iris Prize 2021 at the Iris Prize LGBT+ Film Festival 2021. Producer and author Waseem Mahood is currently producing a film based on the life of Noor Inayat Khan, a Sufi Muslim who chose to fight as a British spy in Nazi occupied France during WW2.
These stories now have the opportunity to be shown globally, not only because of the Saudi Arabian initiative, but because of a shift in attitude and the need to be educated in diversity.
It is not only Muslim stories that we will see in 2022. There also a chance in 2022 we will see increased diversity in our crew. Pillar Fund and Disney recently joined up to create a platform that allows Muslim crew members to connect with each other and work together on future projects.
This change in attitude and increased investment is why I see 2022 being a breakthrough year for Muslim led stories, film and cinema.