The director of an upcoming documentary about slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi says Hollywood film distributors “wouldn’t touch” the film and “look the other way” when it comes to human rights abuses in the kingdom.
Bryan Fogel, who directed the Academy award-winning documentary Icarus, told The Hollywood Reporter that despite The Dissident receiving glowing reviews when it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January, the film was repeatedly snubbed by distributors.
“Without going into behind-the-scenes details that I’m aware of, there was a unified front among the major global media companies, distributors, that they were not going to touch this film,” he said in an interview published on Wednesday.
A royal family insider turned critic, Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered at Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul two years ago in a case that significantly tarnished the reputation of the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS.
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Riyadh has described the slaying as a “rogue” operation, but both the CIA and Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, have linked bin Salman to the killing, a charge the kingdom vehemently denies.
In October, a Saudi court sentenced eight people to as long as 20 years for the murder, four months after Khashoggi’s family forgave his killers and enabled earlier death sentences to be set aside.
The remains of Khashoggi, a former columnist for Middle East Eye and the Washington Post, have never been found.
“It was disappointing, but I think it speaks… to the global landscape of these companies that films such as this — that might really need to be seen and viewers would watch — are being silenced through not being distributed through these channels because they might infringe on subscriber growth or it might put the company at risk of a hack or it might infringe on financing,” Fogel told the Hollywood Reporter.
“In the case of Saudi Arabia, you have so much liquidity and so much money already invested into Hollywood, that clearly factored very large[ly] into the decision.”
US distribution rights for The Dissident were acquired by Briarcliff Entertainment, which Fogel says has a “track record of taking on tough films”, including Spotlight and Farenheit 9/11.
‘Look the other way’
Fogel also slammed major media companies including Netflix and Amazon for making deals with Saudi companies or accepting Saudi investment.
“Regardless of what they do… corporations, big businesses, governments, media or organizations look the other way of their human rights abuses or the war in Yemen or other things that are happening in that kingdom,” the director said.
Earlier this month, a US judge ordered the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to explain why they were withholding a written report on Khashoggi’s murder, after a rights group requested the documents be made public.
US lawmakers and rights groups have repeatedly called on the Trump administration to release the report, and some say that the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden may work to release the document.
On the second anniversary of Khashoggi’s murder, Biden pledged to reassess the US relationship with Saudi Arabia and hinted that MBS was responsible for the killing.
“Jamal’s death will not be in vain, and we owe it to his memory to fight for a more just and free world,” Biden said.