Jul 19, 2024  |  
 | Remer,MN
Sponsor:  QWIKET.COM 
Sponsor:  QWIKET.COM 
Sponsor:  QWIKET.COM 
Sponsor:  QWIKET.COM Sports Media Index – Perfect for Fantasy Sports Fans.
Sponsor:  QWIKET.COM Sports Media Index – Perfect for Fantasy Sports Fans. Track media mentions of your fantasy team.
NY Post
New York Post
24 Feb 2024

NextImg:Secrets of Hollywood’s Saudi Arabian ‘gold rush’: Gwyneth Paltrow, Naomi Campbell, Johnny Depp get millions 

Elon Musk may be the richest man in the world — but Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, has more money at his disposal, experts say.

And the latter is using these funds to “entice” Hollywood’s A-list to normalize the country, despite spiraling allegations of its human rights abuses.

Some of La La Land’s biggest names, from Will Smith to Gwyneth Paltrow and Johnny Depp, have been happy to soak up the kingdom’s majestic sand dunes. The Saudis offered $1 million each to lure stars to the Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah in December; Paltrow reportedly took home even more than that, according to Variety.

Although Musk has a net worth of $202 billion, one well-placed Middle East expert told The Post that bin Salman — commonly known by as MBS — has more freely available cash thanks to Saudi’s Public Investment Fund, a state-owned sovereign wealth fund now valued at around $750 billion.

Gwyneth Paltrow — seen with actor Andrew Garfield — was reportedly paid more than $1 million to attend the Red Sea Festival in Saudi Arabia in December.
Goop CEO Paltrow spoke Friday at FII Priority in Miami, sponsored by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. @FII Institute/X

According to the expert, Saudi wants to make it into the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world by the end of 2030. It has owned stakes in Western businesses including Uber, Disney, Boeing, Meta, Heathrow Airport, Bank of America and Citigroup — as well as funding LIV Golf and England’s Newcastle United Premier League soccer club.

And the movie industry is more than ready to take full advantage of this windfall. As one Hollywood producer who has worked in Saudi told The Post: “People at the highest levels at Hollywood studios right now are seeking an audience with the highest member of the Saudi authority, that is for sure. Some of the biggest studios are pursuing Saudi money to finance their projects.”

Supermodel Naomi Campbell attended the BAFTAs Sunday with Mohammed Al Turki, the founder of the Red Sea Festival. Getty Images
Will Smith was paid around $1 million to jet to Saudi Arabia for the Red Sea Festival in December. Getty Images for The Red Sea International Film Festival

Though his 88-year-old father King Salman is still on the throne, MBS is said to be the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia — and immediately set out to court Westerners when he was made Crown Prince in 2017.

The producer admitted he was “trepidatious” when first visiting Saudi a few years ago. But he was stunned to see women without hijabs on the beach and people walking around in shorts.

“People [there] told me, ‘We don’t recognize the country we live in relative to five years ago’,” the producer added. “There’s Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks. And since MBS has been really in power, the entertainment community, sports, music, film, TV and art has just flooded into Saudi.

Mohammed bin Salman is accused of using millions to lure celebs to Saudi Arabia, in a bid to whitewash human rights violations. AFP/Getty Images
Johnny Depp, seen at the Red Sea Film Festival, has reportedly grown close to MBS and taken Saudi cash to fund his movies. Getty Images for The Red Sea International Film Festival
Depp beamed as he posed for a photo with Prince Badr bin Farhan Al Saud, Minister of Culture and Governor of the Royal Commission for Saudi Arabia. Instagram/baderaalsaud

“Stars like Idris Elba, Gerard Butler and Jason Momoa were among the first big names to go and I think now the majority of actors would go.”

Elba traveled to Saudi in 2018 to promote entertainment in the country and later said,”I found Saudi was warm and welcoming to me, in a surprising way, if I’m honest.”

“Aquaman” star Momoa last year was named chief island officer for the tourist playground Yas Island.

Meanwhile, Goop multi-millionaire Paltrow spoke Friday at FII (Future Investment Initiative) Priority in Miami, one in a series of summits sponsored by the country’s Public Investment Fund. Attracting the likes of film producer Brian Grazer, Dr. Oz, Rob Lowe, tech entrepreneur Michael Dell and financial bigwigs such as Blackstone’s Stephen Schwartzman and the Carlyle Group’s David Rubenstein, its theme, “On the Edge of a New Frontier,” was focused on “innovation for the betterment of business and society.”

Campbell and Al Turki attended the “Killers Of The Flower Moon” red carpet premiere at the Cannes Film Festival last May. FilmMagic
Best pals Al Turki and Campbell attend the Women In Cinema Gala during the Red Sea International Film Festival 2023.

But some say that is rich coming from a country known for its human rights violations — including what the US State Department, in 2021, detailed as executions for nonviolent offenses, forced disappearances, harassment and intimidation against Saudi dissidents living abroad, serious restrictions on free expression and media, inability of citizens to choose their government peacefully through free and fair elections, criminalization of homosexuality and much more.

Joey Shea, the Saudi Arabia researcher at Human Rights Watch, told The Post of Hollywood’s embrace of the kingdom and its cash: “It’s really insidious. We can’t stop this torrent of money enticing all of these celebs and normalizing how people see the country.”

Notoriously, the CIA blamed MBS for ordering the 2018 assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi; but, in 2022, the US State Department said that MBS was immune to liability because of his role as foreign head of state.

“Aquaman” hunk Jason Momoa poses for a selfie at the first ever Comic-Con Arabia event held in the capital Riyadh on November 25, 2017. AFP via Getty Images
Momoa has also been appointed new chief island officer of the Saudi tourist attraction Yas Islands.

Following Khashoggi’s death, Shea said, “There was a period of condemnation for Saudi Arabia and Mohammed bin Salman and that’s when you really saw these efforts to entice celebs to the country in this deliberate effort to make people care about Celeb X in Saudi rather than human rights abuses.

“The Saudis have an endless treasure chest of capital at their disposal to deflect attention and to buy silence. We have been monitoring for nearly a decade … the use of vast sums of money and the deliberate effort to whitewash human rights efforts by enticing actors and high-profile celebrities to come to Saudi Arabia.”

Intriguingly, supermodel Naomi Campbell is BFFs with Mohammed Al Turki, a scion of one of Saudi’s wealthiest families and founder of the Red Sea Film Festival, which lured stars including Gwyneth Paltrow, Will Smith, Sharon Stone and Priyanka Chopra to its red carpet in Jeddah in December.

Nicolas Cage attended last year’s Red Sea Film Festival. Getty Images for The Red Sea International Film Festival

The pair went to the BAFTAs together last Sunday and were seen at the Cannes Film Festival in May. 

They are frequently spotted on the front row at fashion shows, while Campbell, 53, has attended her pal’s film festival for the past three years. One British producer said the model is believed to have an “unofficial ambassadorship” with Saudi Arabia.

A source familiar with their friendship told The Post, “The country is obviously trying to modernize — so there’s an argument that engaging [Campbell] helps the process.”

A rep for Campbell was unavailable for comment. 

Georgina Chapman, the ex-wife of convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein, flew out to Saudi Arabia for the Red Seat Film Festival with Oscar-winning boyfriend Adrien Brody. Getty Images for The Red Sea International Film Festival

Meanwhile, Johnny Depp has found himself in the headlines once again following a recent Vanity Fair story about his epic “bromance” with MBS

According to the piece, Depp asked MBS about Khashoggi’s murder and the ruler said the journalist was a rogue operative.

“Consistent with his public statements, MBS told Depp he didn’t order the murder but nonetheless took responsibility,” the story stated.

Chris Hemsworth took part in a panel discussion with “Elvis” director Baz Luhrmann at the Red Sea Film Festival.

According to Vanity Fair, Depp last year spent over seven weeks in Saudi Arabia, staying in royal palaces and traveling on MBS’ mega yacht Serene.

Depp’s movie “Jeanne du Barry”, which opened Cannes Film Festival last May, was partly financed by Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Foundation, which runs the film festival of the same name.

The foundation has also given backing to Depp’s upcoming directorial effort “Modi,” starring Al Pacino.

Sharon Stone got paid to jet to Saudi Arabia for the film festival. Red Sea Film Festival/AFP via Getty Images

Asked if Depp will continue to work with MBS and take Saudi cash, one insider replied: “Things are going well, so I imagine he’s extremely open to collaborating with them in the future.”

This does not come as a shock to Shea.

“Ultimately, it’s not surprising as the Saudis have just got more money than God. MBS has access to more capital than some of the wealthiest people in the world,” she said.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has been monitoring Saudi investments closely. 

Depp poses with Al Turki and French star Maïwenn, who directed and starred in his movie “Jeanne du Barry,” partly funded with Saudi cash.
Depp and Red Sea Film Festival chairwoman Jomana Alrashid (right) at the fest in November.

In 2017, MBS infamously rounded up nearly 400 of Saudi Arabia’s most powerful people, including princes, tycoons and ministers, at the Ritz-Carlton in the capital of Riyadh and detained them until they gave away millions in assets to the Saudi treasury.

“There’s a serious risk that these assets ended up in the public investment fund — the main thoroughfare which the government engages in this campaign and pays for high profile celebs, actors and sports stars,” said Shea. “This is blood money and it’s deeply concerning.”

However, this has not stopped Hollywood from knocking. Although Hollywood agency Endeavor took back $400 million it plowed into LIV Golf following Khashoggi’s murder, CEO Ari Emanuel last May refused to rule out dealing with Saudi Arabia, telling Freakonomics Radio host Stephen J. Dubner that MBS was “as charming as could be.”

Uber Hollywood producer Brian Grazer spoke at the Miami summit Friday. FII Institute
Rob Lowe also attended the FII Priority Miami Summit this week. FII Institute

Emanuel, the brother of Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, added: ‘I think a bad thing happened. But let’s be very clear about something. I’m not defending what they did. You know, I’ve had a brother that’s been in two White Houses. Every country does bad things. They just don’t do it in an embassy,” he said.

One former studio bigwig insisted that “America has long forgiven the Khashoggi murder. Biden went there and shook hands with MBS. Everyone is doing business with them. The golfers are making $25 million a year instead of $100,000 a year. Money talks loudly.

“It’s hard to be a moralist. How do you say no? At a point you overlook it … if you are going to succeed you have to stoop to conquer in some cases. It reminds me of a quote [from Saint Augustine]: ‘Give me chastity and temperance – but not yet.'”