This article traces the introduction of cinema to the Gulf through the archives of the India Office Records (IOR). The records of the political agent in Bahrain illustrate clearly the extent to which cinema was closely monitored and regulated by the British colonial network of administrative functions in the Persian Gulf, India, and England. Following the discovery of oil in 1932, hydrocarbon modernity gave rise to new spaces of urban culture, most prominently cinema. But in the oil cities of the Gulf, film spectatorship in its early years was refracted through three spheres of moving-image culture: private, corporate-sponsored, and commercial public cinemas. What was common to these three spheres was a certain logic of exclusion and restricted access norms. Administrators in the Gulf looked to how cinema was handled in India for models and ideas to create actual policies on the ground. The bureaucratic traffic over the case of early public cinema peti tions in Bahrain shows how regulatory practices and norms of governance over cinematic spheres circulated from one colonial context (South Asia) to another (the Gulf). The core political issue of the emergence of a cinema culture in the Gulf was the restriction of cinematic medium and space to certain populations. As such, regulating cinema was linked to the question of managing the social forces of hydrocarbon modernity that the discovery of oil unleashed. The arrival of cinema in the Gulf took place in an exclusionary and uneven world, entangled with circulations of colonial practices, regimes of segrega tion, expansionist oil capital, international labor, and film cans.