A semi-historic, invitation-only screening of Black Panther occured in Riyadh the night before last (i.e., Wednesday, 4.18). The premiere happened at a new AMC plex in the King Abdullah financial district, the first in the country since a 35-year-old ban on cinemas was lifted last December.

Video messages from various film industry bigwigs (Tom Rothman, Jeff Shell, Jim Gianopulos, Alan Bergman, Kevin Tsujihara) were screened before the feature. A message from producer and former AMPAS president Hawk Koch: “I’m sure that Saudi Arabian filmmakers are now going to start making the kinds of films that will gain recognition all over the world. And I bet very soon, a film from Saudi Arabia will get nominated for an Oscar!”

HE reaction: In my estimation, Koch’s encouraging vision is unlikely if not illusory. There’s a current p.r. effort underway to sell Saudi Arabia as a more liberal nation (i.e., a Saudi Arabian pavilion will appear at next month’s Cannes Film Festival), but it’s still a medieval-minded autocracy, and governed by a very hardline approach to Sharia Law. A harshly punitive government mentality has never been conducive to creative ferment, at least not in my experience.

The only thing Saudi Arabia is really liberal about, it seems, is beheading people, and they still occasionally stone people to death. A Wiki page says you can lose your head in Saudi Arabia for murder, treason, rape, blasphemy, adultery, sexual misconduct (anything non-hetero), sorcery or waging war on God.