Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Will Smith, Johnny Depp, More Stars Partied at Saudi Film Festival, Vanity Fair Sponsored It Despite Lack of Women’s Rights, Khashoggi Murder

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Johnny Depp, Will Smith and a dozen or more female stars didn’t mind getting a free trip to Saudi Arabia in the last week.

They were flown in for the third annual Red Sea Film Festival, held in Jeddah and approved by the Saudi royal family. That includes MBS aka Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The murder in 2018 of US journalist Jamal Khashoggi has been forgotten apparently. (It’s so five years ago!)

Vanity Fair sponsored a lavish Women in Cinema gala, too, despite Saudi Arabia still not granting women most human rights (except for driving). There’s also the matter of same sex relationships and marriage being officially outlawed. The magazine’s owner, Conde Nast, has just been hit with National Labor Relations Board complaint by the News Guild concerning surveillance of employees prior to a mass lay off last week.

Smith, who is persona non grata in Hollywood after his 2022 Oscars slap, posted jolly videos from the Red Sea Film Festival. He even conducted a master class. Other stars who put aside damning international headlines about human rights in Saudi Arabia included Frieda Pinto, Joel Kinnaman, Sharon Stone, Diane Kruger, Paz Vega, Maiwenn, Zoe Saldana, Michelle Williams, Lucas Bravo, Alessandra Ambrosio, Ed Westwick, Amy Jackson, Rita Ora, as well as jury president Baz Luhrmann and his wife, costume designer Catherine Martin.

JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA – DECEMBER 01: Zoe Saldana and Jury Member Freida Pinto attend the Women In Cinema Gala during the Red Sea International Film Festival 2023 on December 01, 2023 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Daniele Venturelli/Getty Images for The Red Sea International Film Festival)

Since the gruesome 2018 murder of Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Turkey, Saudi Arabia has spent millions — mostly through international firm Publicis — to convince the world they are now a free and happy place. But watchdogs like Amnesty International and The New York Times would disagree. According to Amnesty, a Personal Standards Law passed in 2022, “codifies many of the informal yet widespread problematic practices inherent in the male guardianship system and entrenches a system of gender-based discrimination in most aspects of family life, including in marriage, divorce, and child custody.”

You may recall my encounter with the Red Sea folks at opening night of this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The Saudis, in addition to the PR campaign, are spending like crazy underwriting other film festivals as well.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedmanhttps://www.showbiz411.com
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.
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