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In THE EMOJI STORY we explore the complex, conflict-prone, and often hilarious world of the creators, lovers, and arbiters of emoji, our world's newest pictorial language.



The rapid rise of emoji (Japanese for "picture character") is a global phenomenon without precedent. Their widespread use and ability to convey complex messages have not only cemented emoji's place as an emerging digital language, but prompted difficult questions about the creation of a language and digital communication's fraught ties to identity and inclusion.

In THE EMOJI STORY, directors Martha Shane and Ian Cheney lead viewers on a deep dive into the ever evolving world of picture characters, from their humble beginnings in Japan to mobile keyboards the world over, and shed fresh light on the private consortium that approves new emoji offerings and the individuals fighting to make the language more representative of its billions of users.

Directed by Martha Shane After Tiller, From This Day Forward and Ian Cheney King Corn, The Search for General Tso, The City Dark, Truck Farm, Bluespace, The Greening of Southie, A Sense of Wonder.

Premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival as PICTURE CHARACTER.


79 minutes
SDH captions for the deaf and hard-of-hearing

Directed by Martha Shane, Ian Cheney
Produced by Ian Cheney, Jennifer 8. Lee, Martha Shane
Executive Producers: Fred Benenson, Peter Friedland
Editor: Frederick Shanahan
Cinematographers: Emily Topper, Ian Cheney, Lucy Martens
Original Score: Ben Fries, Simon Beins
Opening Titles & In-Film Graphics: Ben Radatz, Sean Donnelly
Associate Producers: Margaux Sax, Chirstina Choe


Screening options:

COMMUNITY SCREENINGS (single events with license to charge admission)

$100 Small Community Screening (1-50 people)
$200 Medium Community Screening (51-100 people)
$350 Large Community Screening (100+ people)

"Emojis are everywhere - on texts, tweets, Facebook pages, Instagram, are used equally by artists, politicians, advertisers, and others. What is happening? Does emoji writing constitute a new language? Something is definitely going on. This documentary provides an excellent overview of what is going on, how we got there, and where we are going. It is for both emoji users and non-users."
Marcel Danesi, Professor of Anthropology, University of Toronto, Author, The Semiotics of Emoji: The Rise of Visual Language in the Age of the Internet

"Enlightening...Clever...Everything you always wanted to know about emojis, but were afraid to ask."
Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter

Peter Keough, The Boston Globe

"You should never have this much fun learning about Unicode...It's a doc, but also an underdog story...Fascinating."
Nathan Mattise, Ars Technica

"A fascinating insight into something that everybody now takes for granted - and gives people some background to what they are cultivating and curating in the name of friendship and connection across the information highway."
John Higgins, Film and TV Now

"Interesting...A fun look at the importance of emojis...Conveys the spirit of happiness that emojis are supposed to have."
Nathaniel Muir, AIPT Comics

"Incredible creation stories...Who gets to be represented?"
Arielle Pardes, Wired

"A funny, witty and engaging documentary that explores the multifaceted aspects of emojis, the global digital pictograms that are bedazzling communication and cultural representation. THE EMOJI STORY points towards new pathways to learning and education, and is a must watch in classrooms and community settings."
Sanjay Asthana, Professor at the School of Journalism and Strategic Media, Middle Tennessee State University, Co-author, Palestinian Youth Media and the Pedagogies of Estrangement


"Fun, lighthearted...Inspiring."
Dami Lee, The Verge

"THE EMOJI STORY tells the history of emojis and unpacks their cultural significance on a global scale. This fascinating documentary is a welcome addition to the media and cultural studies curriculum."
Laurie Ouellette, Professor of Media and Cultural Studies, University of Minnesota

"Highlight[s] the importance of representation in how we communicate...Endearing and inspiring."
Marty Swant, Adweek

The idea of a feature-length documentary about emojis may sound whimsical, but the more filmmakers Ian Cheney and Martha Shane probe the topic, the more intriguing questions are opened up."
Jake Wilson, The Age

"It all makes for fascinating viewing."
Christopher Llewellyn Reed, Hammer to Nail

"Informative, entertaining...It's all bound to make you think twice before sending your next text — and wonder what imagery is missing that could make that message even more impactful."
Edwin Arnaudin, Asheville Movies

"This is probably one of the most insightful documentaries about the shaping of our modern language I've seen in some time."
Khadjiah Johnson, Black Nerd Problems

"A globe-trotting adventure that is as fun as it is thoughtful in exploring the sensitivities involved in the ongoing creation of a new language right before our eyes."
Stephen Saito, The Moveable Fest


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