Saudi Arabia Ushers in Hollywood With a Little Help From John Travolta

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U.S. actor John Travolta (L) attends a panel discussion at the Apex Convention Center in the Saudi capital Riyadh on December 15, 2017
U.S. actor John Travolta (L) attends a panel discussion at the Apex Convention Center in the Saudi capital Riyadh on December 15, 2017Credit: AFP PHOTO

More than 2,000 fans welcomed Hollywood actor John Travolta at the Apex Convention Center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Friday, days after the country lifted a decades-long ban on cinemas.

Travolta performed a special stand-up format live event called 'A night with John Travolta', in which he looked back on his life and career in Hollywood. The 63-year old actor answered questions from fans, mostly university students, on the many aspects of his life.

Saudi Arabia lifted a 35-year-old ban on cinemas last Monday, prompting celebrations from film fans, industry professionals and movie chains. The latter is eyeing what is seen as the last untapped mass market in the Middle East.

John Travolta meets fans in Saudi Arabia to celebrate cinema ban liftCredit: Haaretz

Many fans were in awe to meet Travolta face-to-face in the Saudi Arabia capital.

"To see John Travolta here and to see a man that we used to see him in cinemas, that's something new," said Ahmed Al-buraik.

"This is only the beginning of the cinema in Saudi Arabia because when they just announced it last week now they're bringing John Travolta. Can you imagine what is going to happen in the next few months? So that's going to be huge, just wait for it, Saudi is coming?" said Ajw`a Al-Joudi.

Cinemas were banned in the early 1980s under pressure from Islamists as Saudi society turned towards a particularly conservative form of the religion that discouraged public entertainment and public mixing between men and women.

"I think it's an important moment and history, because it's my understanding that this is the only country in the world that doesn't have cinema and the idea that it is now happening again after 35 year, I feel like I am part of a celebration of freedom that is connected to a beautiful thing in humanity, so that's a good thing," Travolta told to the audience.

Travolta ended the event singing a short song. The event was organized by The General Authority for Entertainment (GEA) which was created on May 7, 2016 by royal decree in Saudi Arabia and is responsible for the nation's expanding entertainment sector.

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