Unless they left their province or watched movies illegally, Aceh citizens probably don’t know that Thanos’ evil plan was thwarted by the Avengers or that there was an ultimately pointless third Star Wars trilogy. That’s because there are no cinemas in the super-conservative province, and it looks like it’s going to stay that way for the foreseeable future.
The topic of cinemas entered the conversation in Aceh recently after the mayor of the province’s capital of Banda Aceh said that the administration is studying the possibility of opening cinemas in the city. It appeared that the city administration wanted to emulate Saudi Arabia — the birthplace of Islam — which reversed a 35-year-old ban on movie theaters last year.
While there is no cinema ban in Aceh in the legal sense, the Banda Aceh administration noted that the building of cinemas must be approved by the Ulema Consultative Assembly (MPU), Aceh’s senior clerical body that holds immense policy-making power in the only region in Indonesia with special autonomy to enact sharia-based laws.
And MPU does not think the argument that Aceh should allow cinemas because the Saudis have done it is a substantive one.
“What works in other regions, other countries may not necessarily work for us.”
Aceh is currently the only province in Indonesia without a single commercial cinema. That wasn’t always the case — in a report by Detik, there were a few cinemas, mostly in Banda Aceh, that were popular in the ‘90s. However, the cinemas closed at the height of the insurgency in the region towards the latter end of the decade, and those that remained were transformed into markets and offices after the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.
After the tsunami brought an end to the insurgency, not a single cinema has been built as the practice of a more moderate form of Islam was phased out of the province.