The Emoji Movie becomes first film screened in Saudi Arabia after 35-year ban lifted

The Emoji Movie becomes first film screened in Saudi Arabia after 35-year ban lifted
The public showing of two favourite animated films herald the end of the 35-year long cinema ban, a main focus of the Vision 2030 programme of modernising reforms.
3 min read
17 January, 2018
Saturday saw the first ever public screening of a film in the ultra-conservative kingdom [Getty]
The Emoji Movie became the first film ever to be publicly screened in Saudi Arabia, ahead of the lifting of the decades-long cinema ban as part of Vision 2030.

Ahead of the official lifting of the ban in March, that will see the opening of the kingdom's first public cinema, Saudi film-lovers were treated to a showing of two family-favourite comedies on Saturday, The Emoji Movie as well as Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie in a double bill.

It comes as little surprise that the social-media-centred film following the 'meh' Emoji who longs to have more emotions than the one he has been assigned, was the first to be shown.

Saudis are well-known social media fiends, professing one of the highest proportions of Twitter users on the planet.

The choice of film however did attract some ridicule,with some joking that Saudi Arabia would reinstate the cinema ban after being put off by the film, which was not especially well-received by critics.

The films were screened in a makeshift theatre inside Jeddah's state-run cultural centre, which authorities equipped with a projector, a red carpet and a popcorn machine, according to a report by Reuters.

"Until now, there is no infrastructure for movie theatres, so we are trying to take advantage of [alternative] venues to approximate the cinematic form," said Mamdouh Salim, whose Cinema 70 brand organised the week-long screenings.

"We tried to use these films to be a starting point as the first cinematic screening after the decision on 11th December to permit movie theatres."

Cinemas were banned in the ultra-conservative kingdom in the early 1980s, under pressure from Islamists who scorned entertainment such as music and film, as well as mixing between men and women.

In recent months, Saudi's young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has been at the helm of a modernising programme of reforms, known as Vision 2030.

The ambitious young leader aims to revive the Saudi economy by diversifying it away from its reliance on oil exports, as well as driving up domestic spending through the creation of cinemas, music venues and theme parks.

Last month, John Travolta visited Riyadh to give a talk to Saudi film-lovers on his eminent Hollywood career.

The kingdom also announced on Tuesday its intention to invest $500 million dollars in Hollywood agency Endeavour, which manages the likes of Emma Stone and Jake Gylenhaal.

Many have welcomed the reforms that promise to breathe life back into Saudi's virtually non-existent cultural scene.

The shake-up has been especially welcomed by the kingdom's youth, who make up more than half of the entire population. However, some are anticipating a backlash from the country's conservative clerics.

Agencies contributed to this report