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Watch this bizarre video of drones replacing models at a Saudi fashion show

A Saudi fashion show faced backlash after replacing models with drones. There are deeper issues.

Madeleine Ngo covers economic policy for Vox. She previously worked at the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Saudi Arabia just held what might be the weirdest fashion show in the history of fashion shows. Instead of having models showcase dresses, organizers opted for drones.

Yes, seriously.

Videos posted on Twitter of the event, which took place at the Hilton hotel in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah, show floating dresses on clothes hangers gliding down the catwalk, suspended from small black drones. The dresses, which included designs from Dolce & Gabbana, ripple in the air as onlookers in the glitzy hotel lobby peruse the items on offer.

One Twitter user joked that it looked like a “ghost movie.”

But others on Twitter had more serious criticisms, claiming that the use of drones instead of women further perpetuates the archaic and patriarchal restrictions on women in Saudi Arabia.

The show’s organizer Ali Nabil Akbar told BBC Arabic that the decision to use drones was “suitable for the month of Ramadan” and that he wanted to create something “special” to celebrate the Muslim holy month.

Although the organizers’ intentions didn’t work for everyone, the videos reflect how much work Saudi Arabia has to do to achieve equality for women.

Equality is still out of reach for Saudi women despite recent progress

After years of repression, Saudi women finally gained the right to drive after Saudi Arabia’s King Salman issued a royal decree last September. Some women have already received their licenses but won’t be able to drive until June 24. And in April, Saudi Arabia hosted its first-ever Arab Fashion Week in the capital city, Riyadh.

But these modest steps toward equality for women come with complications.

Although 10 women received their licenses this month, 17 women’s rights activists who campaigned for greater gender equality have been jailed on suspicion of undermining security and stability. And Saudi women are still forced to seek the approval of a male relative to carry out basic acts like getting a passport, traveling outside the country, and getting married.

And that Arab Fashion Week in Riyadh? Only women were allowed to attend the fashion shows, and according to the New Arab, “male fashion designers were not allowed backstage even at their own shows.”

But despite all of that (or perhaps just ignoring it), the architect of these new reforms, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has been hailed as a hero in the Western press and lauded for bringing about change in the conservative country.

The fashion show’s organizers may have had positive intentions, but it’s clear the country’s fight for gender equality is much more complex and rooted in deeper issues that Saudi leaders have yet to address.