Saudi Arabia began showing movies after a 35-year ban over the weekend, starting with children's movies, specifically, the The Emoji Movie. Makeshift theaters were setup inside a tent in the conservative Islamic country as well as other buildings. It has been reported that permanent theaters could open up as soon as March of this year, but it is unconfirmed if it will actually happen. For now, the makeshift tent theaters are just fine and the citizens are literally happy to have anything, even if that means having to sit through the Emoji Movie.
Reuters U.K. reported that Saudi Arabia has lifted the 35-year old ban, but it was Newsweek who confirmed that the first movie to be shown was the Emoji Movie. A short video of delighted children and parents shows off the makeshift theater playing Captain Underpants as well as the Emoji Movie. The new theaters are following a new part of a liberalizing reform drive that has already opened the door to concerts, comedy shows, and women drivers over the past year.
The Emoji Movie came out late over the summer to abysmal reviews and at the time, an unprecedented zero percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which now has a healthy nine percent. The movie features emojis taking on their human traits and though it did okay at the box office, it was trashed by critics who called it "boldly bad" as well as "boldly boring." Another review simply called it "a stinking pile of poo."
For the time being, the authorities are sponsoring temporary settings, like the state-run cultural hall in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, which is equipped with a projector, a red carpet, and a popcorn machine. Other alternative venues are the aforementioned tents that have been set up with screen, projectors, and chairs. Mamdouh Salim, who sponsored the week-long screenings had this to say.
"Until now, there is no infrastructure for movie theaters, so we are trying to take advantage of (alternative) venues to approximate the cinematic form. We tried to use these films to be a starting point as the first cinematic screening after the decision on Dec. 11 to permit movie theaters."
The screenings were a huge success and it looks like the citizens of Saudi Arabia can look forward to seeing a lot of Hollywood movies in the near future. The government is using the new theaters as a way to strengthen the economy.
Movie theaters were banned in the early 1980s under pressure from Islamists as Saudi society turned towards a more conservative form of religion that discouraged public entertainment and public mixing between women and men. It remains unclear if men and women were allowed to watch the Emoji Movie together at the screening in Jeddah. It's beginning to look like Saudi Arabia could gain as many as 30 theaters in the next 12 years. Hopefully they'll be treated to better movies in the future. You can read more about the Emoji Movie being the first movie shown in Saudi Arabia after a 35-year ban via Newsweek.