Influencers and celebrities sparked backlash for flocking to a music festival in Saudi Arabia — despite its human rights abuses
- Multiple influencers and celebrities sparked criticism for attending a music festival in Saudi Arabia despite the country's lengthy record of human-rights abuses.
- Some of the most notable attendees included DJ Steve Aoki, actor Armie Hammer, models Winnie Harlow and Alessandra Ambrosio, and social-media figures like Sofia Richie and Scott Disick.
- A post by Diet Prada, a fashion and culture commentary Instagram account, called out the influencer attendees for "cashing big fat checks" by participating in the country's effort to rehabilitate its image. It's unclear if the celebrities and influencers were paid (and if they were, how much.)
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Scores of influencers and celebrities are being criticised for flocking to Saudi Arabia's capital Riyadh for the MDL Beast festival, images of which then flooded the social feeds of various musicians, models, and celebrities.
As was previously reported by Insider, the Saudi government has in the past gifted all-expenses-paid tours Instagram influencers to offer a curated experience that they can document and share to improve the country's reputation and spark tourism industry, and gloss over the country's track record of human-rights abuses.
According to reports and photos posted online of the music festival, some of the most well-known attendees were actors and musicians including Armie Hammer, Ed Westwick, Ryan Phillippe, and DJ Steve Aoki, alongside models Winnie Harlow, Alessandra Ambrosio, Stella Maxwell, and social media figures like Sofia Richie and Scott Disick.
Diet Prada, a fashion and culture commentary Instagram account, offered one of the first critiques of the influencer-magnet event in a post that rounded up photos from the festival in addition to allegations of paid appearances and criticism from other models and fashion heavyweights.
The caption on the post called attendees out for "cashing big fat checks in exchange for #content creation (aka propaganda) to rehabilitate the image of Saudi Arabia."
The post also referenced some of the kingdom's most notable human-rights abuses, including the brutal October 2018, killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi operatives, the May 2018, arrest and deportation of women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul.women's rights activists have been detained and allegedly tortured, as Insider previously reported.
Iâ€™ve been too busy working to realize that a raft of influencers were just paid (again) to fly to Saudi to brighten MBSâ€™s image. Seeing the caption â€œSaudi girlsâ€ is especially grating when I think of Saudi womenâ€™s rights activists jailed or exiled for pushing for basic freedoms. pic.twitter.com/lPd8YjrQVN— Gissou Nia/ Ú¯ÛŒØ³Ùˆ Ù†ÛŒØ§ (@GissouNia) December 21, 2019
I'm rooting for the Saudi people, from all walks of life -- that they one day will enjoy more than just driving and concerts, but more freedoms and economic prosperity.
Jamal Khashoggi said, Saudis deserve better.
Attiah also noted on Twitter that women's fashion and lifestyle magazine Glamour accepted a paid social media campaign with the festival, which partially included posts on the magazine's Instagram account that offered an inside look at the event.
At the center of several of the high-profile invites appears to be Mohammed Al Turki, a Saudi film producer whom GQ Middle East wrote in September 2018 "has become a key catalyst in the rapid expansion of Saudi's film and arts culture."
Al Turki told the magazine that his goal was to develop a "whole film scene in Saudi, from film festivals to studios to a media city," ultimately making "a full-on film society culture in Saudi."
The producer's Hollywood ties were on full display at the festival, where he was pictured rubbing shoulders with Armie Hammer, who also posted an Instagram photo with the producer, and Ryan Philippe, among others.
Insider's requests for comment from Condé Nast and Glamour were not immediately returned.
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