Code: 15555 A

Tehran (IranArt): Saudi Arabia welcomed back films to its kingdom this weekend, with the first theatrical screenings in 35 years after a ban on cinemas was lifted.

But of all the films made over the past four decades that could have been chosen, Saudi Arabian officials plumped for The Emoji Movie: a film that scored a mere 9 per cent from critics on the review site Rotten Tomatoes, and with only a 39 per cent approval rating from audiences.

The Emoji Movie was one of the two films – both aimed at children – that were screened at a state-run cultural centre in the city of Jeddah. The other was Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, also released in 2017, but to considerably better critical acclaim.

According to The Telegraph, the decades-long ban has meant that there are no cinemas in the conservative Islamic kingdom, but there are plans for 300 to be built in Saudi Arabia by 2030, generating 30,000 jobs.

The ban was put in place during the Eighties under Islamists who opposed the public mixing of men and women and public entertainment.

While the grand mufti, Saudi Arabia's highest religious authority, called commercial films a source of "depravity" and opposed the opening of movie theatres just a few months ago, the shift has come as part of a wave of reforms led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The 32-year-old has also allowed women to drive and granted access to concerts and comedy shows over the past year.

The reforms come as the Saudi Arabian government have tried to broaden the economy and reduce the country's dependence on oil. The first cinema could open as early as March.

Mahdi Foroutan Saudi Cinema Undepants Emoji Movie
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