The Emoji Story
Explores the complex, conflict-prone, and often hilarious world of the creators, lovers, and arbiters of emoji, our world's newest pictorial language.
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
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.
"Tells the history of emojis and unpacks their cultural significance on a global scale...[F]ascinating." Laurie Ouellette, Prof. Media & Cultural Studies, Univ of MN
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.
Grade Level: 6 -12, College, Adults
US Release Date: 2021
Copyright Date: 2020
DVD ISBN: 1-948745-64-X
"The Emoji Story does the important work of exploring how emojis - often seen as frivolous or low-brow - affect our lives in very real ways. Through a series of stories about how emojis become selected (or rejected) for the official registry, the film shows how emojis can not only marginalize groups of people, but can empower them, giving them voice in a new worldwide dialect. I would highly recommend this be shown in classes alongside discussions of the power of language, and in communities looking for a way to amplify their representation in the digital world."
Devin Proctor, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Elon University
"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
"Emoji, now ubiquitous in our digital lives, are changing how we express, share, and communicate with our friends, peers, and in the world. The Emoji Story offers a dynamic and engaging exploration into the origins of emoji, from how it all began to how they are regulated today. Educators, parents, and those interested in how people are using emoji to connect around the world will find this film fascinating in the stories it tells and deeply engaging around how emoji are changing our fundamental norms of communication across communities, cultures, and around the globe."
Paul Mihailidis, Professor of Communication, Emerson College, Author, Media Literacy and the Emerging Citizen: Youth, Engagement and Participation in Digital Culture
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 Emoji Story asks important questions about the sociocultural significance of emojis within their linguistic, social, aesthetic, and anthropological contexts by specifically focusing on who should be able to include new emojis, and who decides which and how many emojis are included in the library. The movie also documents different motivations and experiences that lead to the development of new emojis by users of online platforms and includes meaningful expert commentaries on the topic."
Asta Zelenkauskaite, Associate Professor of Communication, Drexel University
"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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DVD includes English SDH captions for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, and scene selection.
Awards and Festivals
Tribeca Film Festival
AFI Docs Film Festival
Sydney Film Festival
Cleveland International Film Festival
Heartland International Film Festival
Milano Design Festival
Woods Hole Film Festival
Traverse City Film Festival
American Film Showcase
Hawaii International Film Festival
Melbourne International Film Festival
Sedona Film Festival
Rocky Mountain Women's Film Festival
SF Doc Festival
Durango Independent Film Festival
Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers
Doc Edge Film Festival
Design Film Festival, Singapore
ARTRussia Film Festival
Oxford Film Festival
DOCtober Film Festival
Taormina Film Festival
Lake Country Film Festival
Three Rivers Film Festival
Castlemaine Documentary Film Festival
41 North Film Festival
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"By looking at the history and evolution of emojis, The Emoji Story challenges the pervasive myth that there is anything neutral or inevitable about technological development. Through a focus on diverse examples, the documentary provides an excellent teaching tool that highlights the interwoven relationships between cultures and digital media, as well as the significant role of visual language in contemporary communication and self-representation."
Dr. Jacqueline Ryan Vickery, Associate Professor of Media Arts, Director of Youth Media Lab, University of North Texas
"Language constantly evolves and, as this film demonstrates, emojis are now part of that evolution...The Emoji Story provides an opportunity for discourse on language and communication and would be an asset to any course in that vein...This film gives new insight into the pictorial language of the emoji and society, culture, representation and language on a larger scale and is highly recommended for courses on documentary filmmaking, language, sociology, communication, women's studies, and more."
Jennifer Dean, Film Editor, Filmmaker, Film Curator, Educational Media Reviews Online
"We can choose from thousands of emojis with the click of a button, but how many of us have given thought to how these emoji came to be on our screens? The Emoji Story provides interesting insight into the process of emoji creation and regulation, as well as the ever-evolving nature of this new linguistic phenomenon...Recommended."
Ashley Sosa, Video Librarian