Secret Cinema in Saudi Arabia


Though cinemas and movie-making were made illegal in the 1970s after religious conservatives declared many cultural activities sinful, it has not stopped Saudi Arabians from making and showing films that undermine SA’s puritanism today.

A few renegade film makers in Saudi Arabia called Red Wax have created an underground movie group that shows films on taboo political and social issues, like women’s rights and migrant workers. Inconspicuous screenings bring in a healthy viewership who is informed about the location of screenings via text message and phone calls. One of the founders, who remain anonymous, believes that there is a large audience for film in SA and that many travel abroad to Behrain and beyond to see movies regularly. However, the true aim of the group is to foster the growth of a film industry within the country and a critical audience: “The films should be made by people here [to give] more freedom of expression to our community. It’s [about] our daily life, our struggle against all these banning forces, not to be free to say what we want. We need to reach average people so we can raise the level of awareness. It’s not provocative, it’s more real. If I make a film, I need an audience. It’s not interesting if a film is not showing inside [the kingdom] because not all Saudis can travel abroad.”

In 2006, there were signs of an impending liberalization when a European film festival showed films to select audiences in embassies and consulates and the first Saudi Arabian film festival was held in 2008. However, after the screening of Menahi in late 2008, a film funded by the King’s nephew and the first to be publicly shown in 30 years, a serious backlash occurred and a fatwa was issued against cinemas in 2009. Recently, SA officials have cracked down on video bloggers and creators of YouTube clips, though Red Wax continues to grow.

Graham Todd is an intern at The Rumpus. He spends his mornings writing post-apocalyptic, vaguely biblical sci-fi horror comedy, his evenings tutoring the wide-eyed youth of the Palo Alto area, and his Thursdays at The Rumpus office, effectively “off the streets”. Beyond this weekly ritual, he enjoys karaoke, the movies, and jogging. More from this author →