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Picture Character

Documentary Film Screening | March 14-17, 2021

Picture Character


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.

Picture Character Poop Emoji Rock


In Picture Character, 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.

Press Quotes:

“Everything you always wanted to know about emojis, but were afraid to ask.”
- The Hollywood Reporter, April 2019

“The film is inspiring…”
- The Verge, April 2019

Watch the trailer now!

Picture Character will be available to watch on-demand from March 14-17.

Tickets are free and open to the public. PRE-ORDER TICKETS NOW

Want to connect regarding additional educational opportunities attached to the film? 
Contact for details. 

👋 When we embarked on directing this documentary about emoji, we anticipated creating a delightful, lighthearted romp through a strange and quirky set of digital symbols. We’d read articles comparing emoji to Cuneiform, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and Chinese pictographs, all of which sounded fascinating, and yet the role emoji played in our own lives and communications felt singular. A simple 😊, 🌴, or 💩 at the end of a text had the power to transform the tone of a text message, changing a day for better or worse, accordingly. We wanted to understand the history of these tiny, colorful icons and how they came to have such outsized power over us.

What we couldn’t predict at that time was how the creators of emoji—especially the creators of the hijab emoji, mate emoji, and period emoji — would come to shape our story. As we witnessed these people from such diverse backgrounds fighting tirelessly for their emoji, we found ourselves asking deeper questions: Who should decide which emoji are added to the set? And can the full diversity of the world be represented in a limited set of digital symbols?

These questions echoed broader and more pressing debates happening all around us — about the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley and its impact, about how technology is changing the way we communicate, and about who should have control over digital communication platforms. And yet whenever we found our questions becoming too abstract, a simple glance through an emoji set that includes 😜, 😻, 🦃, and 🗿returned us swiftly to planet 🌎 and reminded us of the humor and absurdity at the 💚 of our topic.

It’s impossible to 🔮 the future, so we can’t yet know whether emoji will evolve into a universal language or will be relegated to the dust pile of history. But we hope that during the short ⏱ we have together while 👀🎥, 🍿in 🖐 , that we celebrate the strange beauty and power of these tiny icons, and allow them to spark some ❓ about 💻, and the 🌎 we want to live in, and how those two concepts may interact. 💞 - Martha Shane & Ian Cheney, Directors

Ian Cheney is an Emmy-nominated and Peabody Award-winning documentary filmmaker. Picture Character is his eighth feature-length documentary, and his past films – including King Corn (2007) , The Greening of Southie (2008), Truck Farm (2010), The City Dark (2011), The Search for General Tso (2014), Bluespace (2015), The Smog of the Sea (2016) The Most Unknown (2018) and Thirteen Ways (2019) - have premiered at film festivals & theaters worldwide and been released on Netflix, PBS, The Sundance Channel, VICE Media and other networks. A former Knight Science Journalism fellow at MIT, he has also produced short films for the New York Times, the Guardian and the Atlantic. Since 2015 he has been an adjunct professor at Yale.

Martha Shane is an Emmy-award-winning documentary filmmaker. Her directorial debut After Tiller premiered in the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and won the Emmy for Best Documentary. Martha produced and co-wrote the award-winning documentary From This Day Forward, which was theatrically released by Argot Pictures and broadcast on the PBS documentary series POV, and she produced and co-directed the feature documentary Bi the Way, which had its premiere at the SXSW Film Festival and was broadcast on MTV’s LOGO channel. In addition to directing and producing, Martha is an editor whose recent credits include 11/8/16 (The Orchard, Netflix, 2017), ACORN and the Firestorm (Independent Lens, 2018), and Personal Statement (AFI Docs, PBS World Channel, 2018).

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