In December, Saudi Arabia lifted a 35-year ban on commercial theaters, and this past weekend the first movie screenings were opened to the public. One of the screenings was a double-feature of The Emoji Movie and Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie in the city of Jeddah, Reuters reports.
These animated children’s movies might not be the most critically acclaimed films of 2017 — in fact, The Emoji Movie was actively terrible — but the screening is still a significant move for the country, which has recently lifted other ultraconservative entertainment restrictions, like a ban on concerts. According to The New York Times, last week also marked the first time women were allowed to attend a soccer game at a public stadium.
The Emoji Movie screening was part of a week-long series of screenings, and took place at a state-run cultural center because no permanent theaters have opened yet. “We tried to use these films to be a starting point as the first cinematic screening,” event organizer Mamdouh Salim told Reuters. According to the report, the Saudi government expects to open 300 theaters by 2030.
As The New York Times points out, internet downloads and satellite TV have made it possible for citizens to watch movies, even without theatrical exhibition as an option. And theatrical releases in Saudi Arabia are still likely to be censored. In December, the Ministry of Culture and Information released a statement that said movies “will be subjected to censorship based on the media policy of the kingdom,” according to the Times.
Reuters reports that permanent theaters could open in the country as early as March, although no clear plans have been announced. Hopefully by then, we’ll have been able to forget about The Emoji Movie.