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The Emoji Movie (Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation)

After 35-year ban, The Emoji Movie becomes first film screened publicly in Saudi Arabia

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Mar 30, 2021, 12:50 PM EDT (Updated)

Imagine waiting 35 years to see a movie in a theater, and the first thing you get to see is that giant pile of steaming emoji, The Emoji Movie. It still sounds incredible, right, seeing as any theatergoing experience likely beats not having the freedom to go to the theater at all?  

With The Emoji Movie kicking things off, Saudi Arabia began screening feature-length animated children’s films last weekend in a converted state-run cultural hall in Jeddah serving as a theater, complete with a red carpet and popcorn machine, according to Reuters

Cinemas had been banned for more than three decades in the conservative Islamic kingdom, where public entertainment and gender mixing were discouraged. But in an effort to broaden its oil-dependent economy, 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman lifted the ban on Dec. 11, 2017, and now the projectors are rolling, even though no cinema infrastructure exists in the country.  

“The first permanent theaters could open as early as March, part of a liberalizing reform drive that has already opened the door to concerts, comedy shows, and women drivers over the past year,” notes Reuters.

It’s not a 100 percent freedom, mind you, as films will be censored to adhere to the “moral values” of the kingdom. And apparently The Emoji Movie lives up to those values.

Sure, Saudi Arabian culture officials may have served the masses better by greenlighting pretty much any other family-friendly flick, but when you’ve been denied the freedom of going to the theater at all, the mere act of sitting next to your fellow man and woman, in shared darkness, watching light flicker to magic onscreen, well… the much-panned movie likely gets thumbs-ups all around. Or a smiley-face emojis, as the case may be.