Los Angeles Times

In Saudi Arabia, movies are suddenly being embraced

JIDDA, Saudi Arabia - Hisham Fageeh has received standing ovations at some of the world's premier film festivals for his starring role in the Saudi Arabian romantic comedy "Barakah Meets Barakah." His satirical videos rack up millions of views on YouTube.

Yet when the actor, producer and comedian tried to set up a film production company in the Red Sea port city of Jidda, an official at the Ministry of Commerce refused to sign off on the venture.

"Cinema is haram," the official told him, "forbidden."

Less than a year later, the government is signing deals with some of the world's leading cinema operators to open hundreds of theaters in Saudi Arabia, and 30-year-old Fageeh is taking meetings with top officials eager to learn how they can support the country's nascent film industry.

"It's ... awesome," he said, using an expletive unpublishable in Saudi Arabia or the Los Angeles Times.

The sudden change of heart is part of a broad push by the country's 32-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to modernize a society regarded as among the world's most conservative and diversify an economy almost entirely dependent on

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