Saudi Arabia courts Hollywood in its push to create a world-class film industry
Oct. 12, 2019
Aquaman and other Tinseltown heroes will arrive in Saudia Arabia Sunday to help the kingdom — and themselves — get a bit richer, as officials promote their $64 billion push to create a world-class film industry.
Jason Momoa, who plays the DC Comics character on the big screen, flew into Riyadh Saturday night along with Jackie Chan and Jean Claude van Damme — the first time Hollywood A-listers have visited the country since Jamal Khashoggi’s savage murder in 2018, The Post has learned.
They’ll participate at a conference organized by Saudi’s General Entertainment Authority called the Joy Forum, which backers said “will bring together industry-leading global entertainment pioneers interested in investment and growth opportunities in the kingdom’s entertainment sector.”
The initiative is part of Saudi Arabia’s push to build an industry that’s not oil-based.
Brochures for the event tease “top CEOs and thought leaders in global entertainment [and] an elite list of Hollywood and Bollywood celebrities.”
“People used to travel and spend money outside Saudi Arabia for entertainment. We want to bring that back into Saudi Arabia and create as many options as possible,” said Amr Banaja, CEO of Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority.
It’s unclear how many clams Aquaman will collect, but the Hawaiian-born actor usually charges upwards of $200,000 an appearance, according to the All American Speakers Bureau.
A source with knowledge of the event said organizers “are paying a premium people can’t say no to in order to get them here. I wouldn’t be surprised if they paid him $1 million.”
Momoa attended Saudi Comic Con in 2017, a year before Khashoggi, a 59-year-old Washington Post columnist, was strangled and mutilated inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The CIA concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman ordered his operatives to kill Khashoggi, a frequent critic of the kingdom.
Momoa wasn’t Saudi Arabia’s first choice, an insider told The Post. The government was in talks with Russell Crowe and approached Will Smith, but Crowe pulled out last week and Smith declined, according to the source.
Reps for Momoa, Crowe, Chan and van Damme didn’t return e-mails for comment.
All the attendees, including Momoa, Chan and van Damme, are staying at the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton — where bin Salman detained and reportedly tortured hundreds of princes, officials and businessmen during a 2017 purge.
The months-long campaign to woo celebrities — Mariah Carey also performed in the country this year — has been blasted by critics as a crude ploy to use celebrities to bolster Saudi Arabia’s battered image.
Omaima Al Najjar, a Saudi woman who fled the kingdom to seek political refuge abroad, said the concerts are a diversion from the Saudi-led war in Yemen, human rights abuses committed under the crown prince and repressive male guardianship laws that restrict women’s freedoms.
“The Saudi government is using entertainment to distract the people from human rights abuses because it can sense the anger among the public,” Al Najjar said in January of Carey’s appearance that month in King Abdullah Economic City.
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