A number of celebrities have been criticised for attending a festival in Saudi Arabia – allegedly accepting six-figure sums to go to the event.
Hollywood stars including Armie Hammer, Ryan Phillipe, Ed Westwick and Wilmer Valderrama were among those at MDL Beast, a three-day festival in Riyadh that drew hundreds of thousands of visitors.
But the high-profile guests, which included Instagram stars and former Victoria’s Secret models, have been criticised for promoting an event in a kingdom under fire for its human rights record.
And it comes amid continued focus on the death of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi.
On Monday, five people were sentenced to death over the 2018 killing, which saw Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman draw international condemnation because several Saudi agents who worked directly for him were involved.
Amid this backdrop, MDL Beast was designed to boost the country’s economy and improve its image abroad.
More than 70 world-famous DJs, including David Guetta and Steve Aoki, were invited to perform across five stages to the backdrop of surrealist performances.
Actor Armie Hammer said the event “felt like a cultural shift. A change. Like Woodstock in the 1960s” in an Instagram post.
Journalist Yashar Ali said in response: “Did you find Jamal Khashoggi’s body while you were there?”
Speaking about his performance, Guetta said: “It really meant the world to me to be here in Saudi Arabia – we’re making history.
“I see the enthusiasm of all the youth of the country and to see this happiness in their eyes and to be part of that moment is a privilege.”
Diet Prada, an Instagram account that has amassed more than a million followers by highlighting instances of plagiarism and cultural appropriation, criticised the celebrity attendees.
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What’s worse than an all white @revolve influencer trip? Cashing big fat checks in exchange for #content creation (aka propaganda) to rehabilitate the image of Saudi Arabia, a country said to be causing “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis”, according to the United Nations. According to anonymous sources, six-figure sums were offered for attendance and geo-tagged posts. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Following the government’s pre-meditated murder of journalist Jamal Kashoggi in October 2018 , the arrest of women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul in May 2018, the outing of a gay Saudi journalist and his partner who began receiving death threats from their families (homosexuality is a crime in Saudi Arabia and punishable by death), and countless other human rights abuses, a bevy of supermodels, influencers, celebrities, and musicians convened in Riyadh for the inaugural @mdlbeast . According to @hypebeast , the electronic music festival is “one of the most significant musical events the region has ever seen”. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Saudi Arabia has been spending billions to change its image in the west, but this is sure to be the most expensive campaign yet. In a series of Instagram stories posted by transgender model @teddy_quinlivan , it was revealed that fellow model @emrata had turned down the trip, evidently aware of the country’s human rights crisis. “It is very important to me to make clear my support for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community, freedom of expression and the right to a free press. I hope coming forward on this brings more attention to the injustices happening there”, said Ratajkowski in a statement to Diet Prada. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Unfortunately, not all shared the same sentiments. There are simply too many attendees to name. Dieters, feel free to tag any attendees you know of… just in case they haven’t been reading the news. • #propoganda #jamalkashoggi #humanrights #humanrightsabuse #lgbtq #lgbtqrights #freespeech #journalism #independent #womensrights #mdlbeast #edm #electronicmusic #supermodel #influencer #content #riyadh #emrata #emilyratajkowski #teddyquinlivan #model #celebrity #dj #electronicmusic #musicfestival #wtf #smh #government #corruption #dietprada
A post shared by Diet Prada ™ (@diet_prada) on Dec 21, 2019 at 2:04pm PST
The account accused them of “cashing big fat checks in exchange for #content creation (aka propaganda) to rehabilitate the image of Saudi Arabia”.
It added: “According to anonymous sources, six-figure sums were offered for attendance and geo-tagged posts.
The entertainment authority that licensed the festival said some people had been compensated for promoting the event, but denied such high sums were paid to individuals.
Actor Ryan Phillippe hit out at those criticising him on Instagram.
In response to one, he said: “If you used your infantile logic, no one should live or go anywhere. Grow up.”
To another, Phillippe responded: “It’s funny to me tool. You think I really care. I’m bored and s******* on uninformed holier than thous.”