Hollywood's reticence in taking on human rights issues in Saudi Arabia has been blasted by Oscar winning documentary director Bryan Fogel. Best known for the 2017 movie Icarus, which uncovers the truth behind doping in sports, Fogel slammed the movie industry during an interview with the Hollywood Reporter saying that distributors "wouldn't touch" his new film and "look the other way" when it comes to human rights abuses in the kingdom.
Fogel's criticism of Hollywood came after his new movie The Dissident, which chronicles the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, was snubbed repeatedly 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," Fogel is reported saying.
The Dissident was eventually picked up by the new distribution company Briarcliff Entertainment and will be released from 25 December. But Hollywood's reticence to pick it up, Fogel argues, proves one of The Dissident's points: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's importance in the global economy has prompted major companies and governments to "look the other way" when it comes to human rights abuses — or at, least, to avoid poking the bear.
Speaking about his reasons for taking on the project of telling the story of Khashoggi following his huge success with Icarus, Fogel said that he felt a sense of "responsibility" to produce work covering a similar theme highlighting "human rights, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, a totalitarian regime, a dictatorship that was seeking a false narrative and fake truths." In the assassination of Khashoggi, he said, "all these boxes quickly were checked".
Fogel described the distribution challenges as "disappointing" and added: "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."
Explaining Hollywood's reticence Fogel said: "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."