The First Film Publicly Screened in Saudi Arabia After 35 Years Is… ‘The Emoji Movie’
Last month, Saudi Arabia announced they would be lifting their 35-year cinema ban nationwide, re-legalizing movie theaters and bringing in content and entertainment from the West. Last week, screenings were held in the cultural center in Jeddah — since no movie theaters have had time to open yet — and one of the first screenings was a double feature of Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie and The Emoji Movie.
Reuters reports that the screening series of children’s films was organized last week by the Saudi Cinema 70 brand, and held in Jeddah’s cultural center in a temporary location, equipped with a red carpet and popcorn machine. Cinemas were banned in the 1980s under pressure from Islamists when Saudi Arabia embraced more conservative values, discouraging public entertainment and the mixing of men and women, but progressive Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been rolling back these decrees in order to Westernize and reduce the nation’s dependence on the oil trade.
Along with the ban on cinemas, the comedy show ban has also been lifted, women have been granted the right to drive, and just last week women were allowed to attend a soccer game at a public stadium. Internet downloads and satellite TV have always allowed citizens to watch movies if they wanted to, but the reintroduction of public cinemas is a big step. It’s likely that Saudi Arabian cinemas will continue to censor their imported entertainment as a nod to the conservative values still held by the nation. Reuters reports that the new movie theaters could open as soon as March, so fortunately the atrocity that is The Emoji Movie hasn’t made anyone think they’ve made a huge mistake.