Film Review: The Emoji Story

STUDIO: Utopia | DIRECTOR: Ian Cheney & Martha Shane
RELEASE DATE: Dec. 22, 2020
SPECS: NR | 89 min. | Documentary

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  1/2

The digital language of the Emoji (Japanese for picture character) has become a sensation so it was only a matter of time until a documentary about its evolution and impact hit our screens. Enter The Emoji Story.

Directed by Peabody Award-winning documentary filmmaker Ian Cheney (King Corn) and Emmy-winning filmmaker Martha Shane (After Tiller), the film covers a lot of ground from emoji’s history, its impact on how we communicate, the need for inclusion and the extensive submission process to UniCode Technical Committee (UTC) — the Silicon Valley board that decides which picture characters will be available on computers and smartphones worldwide.

There are interviews from linguists, etiquette experts, members of UTC, as well as several individuals fighting to make the language more representative of its billions of users. The variety of these include a teenage Muslim who created a hijab emoji, a U.K. feminist group seeking a menstruation emoji and an Argentinian women promoting the popular South American drink maté.

Cheney and Shane have picked their subjects well—they are all very personable and you may find yourself rooting for a few of them to win their emoji application. The film has a light, genial feel that doesn’t take itself too seriously as it makes smart use of graphics that playfully feature the multitude of ways emojis are used and how many have taken on other meanings than intended. Yes, I’m talking about you, eggplant emoji!

There are a few extraneous segments that focus on a teenage hip-hop singer who created an emoji song and an executive from Tinder who discusses how strangers find common ground through emojis – well, duh – which do little to provide any deeper understanding to the complex cultural use of the characters. The result is a perfectly enjoyable overview but while taking on so much material, The Emoji Story still only scratches the service on a topic that remains ripe for further examination.

The Emoji Story is now available on many platforms, including iTunes and Altavod.

About Janine

Janine is a dedicated fan of the 1940 film Kitty Foyle, directed by Sam Wood, written by Dalton Trumbo and starring Ginger Rogers, who won an Oscar for her portrayal. And seeing that film is all it took to make her a lifelong movie lover. Janine is excited to add her insights to the great team at