Jeddah is about to become the first Saudi Arabian city to screen a movie since the implementation of the country’s ban on cinema 35 years ago. That’s a huge deal in a country where women were granted the right to drive a car just last year. Unfortunately for Saudi Arabian cinephiles and parents, the first movie screened in the country will be The Emoji Movie — arguably one of the worst films of 2017 and certainly one of the most hated by parents.
The movie, which brings emojis from Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp to life, received just a 9 percent rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite the plot, animation, and execution, Saudi cinema goers are apparently eating it up. After taking his wife and two children to see the film inside a makeshift movie theater in Jeddah, one father told Reuters that going out to see a movie is better than staying cooped up inside. Authorities even hope to open up to 300 theaters in the country by 2030.
A lifting of the cinema ban is better late than never, but according to the same report from Reuters, the Saudi government didn’t exactly allow the screenings for the sake of progress, but to retain the money that citizens were otherwise spending on entertainment in neighboring states like Bahrain and the UAE. They hope to net at least $24 billion dollars and create 30,000 jobs by building up the countries non-existent film market.
Despite landmark move to start showing films in the first place, in order to satisfy conservative wings of society, all films screened in Saudi Arabia will first be censored for content first. Fortunately, being subject to fewer minutes of The Emoji Movie doesn’t sound particularly awful.