Why Hollywood is looking past Saudi Arabia’s record of human rights abuses

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Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed Bin Salman attends the Formula-E Race at Diriyah Race Track, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, January 28, 2023. Credit: Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS.

Saudi Arabia is trying to make its mark in American sports and filmmaking. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the kingdom’s Public Investment Fund recently signed a deal with the CW network to air LIV Golf, a rival to the PGA. Hollywood is also filming more blockbusters in the region, and Saudi Arabia recently hosted a star-studded film festival featuring some of this year’s Oscar nominees. 

Saudi Arabia faced pushback for its human rights record in the wake of the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But now that seems to be waning, as the country once again tries to make inroads into American entertainment.

“The pandemic forced these companies to … transform their businesses and figure out how to make it work when movie theaters were closed, when productions were shut down, when touring was shut down. So they needed financing, and Saudi Arabia was willing to step in and make these big investments into American companies,” says Alex Weprin, media and business writer for the Hollywood Reporter. “As time goes on, and we get further from Khashoggi's murder, it becomes a little easier to put that aside and think about a deal in a moment of necessity. I don't think a lot of companies would be necessarily eager to do it. But if it's an opportunistic deal and it's needed to help save your business, companies will do it.”

He adds, “Hollywood is no stranger to rehabilitating people that do not have the best reputations. … If you get the right people in the room, it can send a message to others in the business that okay, maybe this is okay now, maybe we can talk to them again.”




Michell Eloy