When it was first released last summer the CG animated ode to emoticons, The Emoji Movie, did not exactly set the box office on fire. But recently it managed to cement its place in history as it was shown in a theater in Saudi Arabia, making it one of the first movies to have been screened in the region after the lifting of the ban on cinemas.
According to Reuters, The Emoji Movie was screened in a makeshift theater in Jeddah, in a weeklong screening campaign organized by the Cinema 70 brand owned by Mamdouh Salim. The cinema ban has been in place since the early 1980s, as part of the country’s then campaign to move towards a more conservative interpretation of Islam. It was lifted after 35 years because the Saudi government is moving to diversify their economy beyond oil, and also to keep the money Saudis spend within the country as opposed to being spent on countries like Bahrain and the UAE, where many tend to visit as tourists just to consume entertainment, including movies.
The Emoji Movie did not screen in its original form, though. The version shown in Saudi has been appropriately censored in certain places in order to avoid conflicting with beliefs held by Saudi conservatives. Reuters’ report further states that the Jeddah screening is only the tip of the iceberg, as Saudi authorities are planning to open 300 cinemas with 2,000 screens by the year 2030.