STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

The studio behind the satirical Saudi cartoon millions are watching

It's still dangerous to push the boundaries in Saudi Arabia.That's exactly what animation studio Myrkott is do...

Posted: Dec 14, 2017 1:51 PM
Updated: Dec 14, 2017 1:51 PM

It's still dangerous to push the boundaries in Saudi Arabia.

That's exactly what animation studio Myrkott is doing, and it's building a huge online following in the process.

Myrkott and its creators are behind the wildly popular satirical cartoon series, Masameer.

Named after a Saudi neighborhood about 186 miles (300 km) west of the capital Riyadh, the series pokes fun at the conservative kingdom over issues such as women's rights, corruption, drug use and religious tension -- subjects that would have been taboo until very recently.

The series has so far amassed more than 600 million views over 100 episodes on YouTube.

"We try to create characters from all aspects, all different backgrounds, cultures, religions. Characters that you meet everyday," said Abdulaziz Al-Muzaini, who founded Myrkott with Malik Nejer and Faisal Alamer in 2014.

"When you watch it as a Saudi or from the Gulf, there is a certain depth of reality... that makes people love it," he told CNNMoney.

Masameer also tackles other dramatic changes being driven by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who wants to overhaul the economy and restore a more tolerant culture to Saudi Arabia.

Related: Saudi Arabia's reforming crown prince has youth on his side

A recent 12-minute episode covered recent reform efforts and the struggle with religious authorities who oppose steps to liberalize society, such as allowing music concerts for the first time this year.

It features a man who runs out of patience with the lack of change, and decides his only option is to escape what he calls the "medieval" kingdom, leaving his wife in the process.

He starts a video blog about his new "freedom" and his desire to try things that are forbidden in Saudi Arabia.

"Tomorrow I'll think about being an atheist, then become part of an opposition, then try being gay," he says in a video that was cut short for an announcement claiming women will be allowed to drive.

That prompts him to return to Saudi Arabia.

The episode has been watched more than 1.7 million times. But Al-Muzaini knows it won't be universally popular.

"We know that not all people are going to take it well," Al-Muzaini said in his studio in Riyadh. "We don't want to follow, we want to lead. We want to go on five years from now and say 'we told you so.'"

The risks of going too far too fast were underscored earlier this month.

The head of a government agency was fired after he attended the opening party of an academy to train women to become beauticians. Models at the event in Riyadh were dressed conservatively, but were unveiled and were wearing makeup, a scene that would have been almost unthinkable a few months back.

Social media sites were abuzz following the event.

"The kingdom and its men does not approve of this irresponsible act," tweeted one Saudi user. "This is out of our norms and traditions," tweeted another.

Al-Muzaini believes changing the way young people think is vital if the country is going to move forward. Getting more of them into work is a key part of bin Salman's Vision 2030 for what the economy, and the country, should look like.

"The vision is not about the money, it's not about who you put as a leader, it's rather about the mentality of the people," Al-Muzaini said. "The vision is not going to happen with the same mentalities that we have these days."

Related: Saudi Arabia will issue its first tourist visas in 2018

He hopes that the reforms will allow the media sector to flourish and contribute to the economy.

Saudi Arabia this week lifted a 35-year ban on cinemas. It expects the first movie theaters to open in March.

The news has prompted Mykrott to consider bringing Masameer to the big screen by the end of 2018.

Beyond creating a YouTube sensation, most of the work at Myrkott is making videos for companies. It also generates revenue from sponsorships and advertisements.

Al-Muzaini started out as a newspaper cartoonist in the 1990s. Then print media went into decline.

"I knew I had to find another way of practicing what I love," he said. "That's when I met Malek [my co-founder] and he showed me that my drawings can be animated."

Al-Muzaini recalls the first time one of his videos hit a thousand views.

"It's like my whole school watched my video," said Al-Muzaini. "We were like wow, amazed... These days we create millions and millions of views."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 314147

Reported Deaths: 7244
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21587258
Hinds20339415
Harrison17899309
Rankin13599278
Jackson13443246
Madison10092217
Lee9971174
Jones8373163
Forrest7677152
Lauderdale7187241
Lowndes6391146
Lamar622986
Lafayette6187118
Washington5332134
Bolivar4800132
Oktibbeha462598
Panola4581107
Pearl River4511146
Marshall4436103
Warren4387121
Pontotoc420172
Monroe4109133
Union410376
Neshoba4031176
Lincoln3962110
Hancock379286
Leflore3495125
Sunflower335990
Tate333384
Pike3321105
Scott315773
Alcorn312868
Yazoo311469
Itawamba300177
Copiah296865
Coahoma295279
Simpson294988
Tippah288168
Adams284682
Prentiss279760
Marion269080
Leake267873
Wayne262641
Grenada261487
Covington259381
George248048
Newton246461
Winston227081
Tishomingo226767
Jasper221048
Attala214273
Chickasaw207757
Holmes188873
Clay185254
Stone182633
Tallahatchie178641
Clarke177980
Calhoun170632
Yalobusha164238
Smith162334
Walthall133945
Greene130533
Lawrence128524
Montgomery126842
Noxubee126734
Perry126338
Amite123042
Carroll121828
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis107033
Tunica105326
Claiborne102430
Benton99525
Humphreys96633
Kemper95728
Franklin83623
Quitman80716
Choctaw76318
Wilkinson67231
Jefferson65628
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 531751

Reported Deaths: 10997
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson766021528
Mobile41061805
Madison34820505
Tuscaloosa25801453
Montgomery24348589
Shelby23465249
Baldwin21170309
Lee15887171
Calhoun14515316
Morgan14315279
Etowah13849353
Marshall12239223
Houston10575281
Elmore10062205
Limestone9980151
Cullman9697194
St. Clair9671243
Lauderdale9437241
DeKalb8843187
Talladega8231176
Walker7244277
Autauga6928108
Jackson6815112
Blount6680137
Colbert6307134
Coffee5521119
Dale4845111
Russell442538
Chilton4302112
Franklin426382
Covington4131118
Tallapoosa4026152
Escambia393677
Chambers3575123
Dallas3555152
Clarke351061
Marion3126101
Pike311077
Lawrence300498
Winston274473
Bibb261264
Geneva251077
Marengo249564
Pickens234561
Barbour231456
Hale223177
Butler216469
Fayette212562
Henry188944
Cherokee185245
Randolph180642
Monroe177840
Washington167639
Macon159750
Clay156857
Crenshaw152757
Cleburne149141
Lamar142735
Lowndes138953
Wilcox127130
Bullock122841
Conecuh110529
Coosa107928
Perry107826
Sumter104732
Greene92534
Choctaw60724
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
51° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 51°
Columbus
Clear
50° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 50°
Oxford
Clear
51° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 51°
Starkville
Clear
46° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 46°
Skies remain clear as we wrap up the work week, which will lead us into an excellent weekend in terms of weather. Low humidity will keep temperatures cool or chilly in the mornings and much warmer each afternoon. Humidity gradually returns later in the weekend and early next week.
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather