Is Saudi Arabia the next film frontier?

Eager to rehabilitate its image and shine brightly on the world stage, Saudi Arabia is investing in Hollywood.

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The Future. Eager to rehabilitate its image and shine brightly on the world stage, Saudi Arabia is investing in Hollywood. If US media companies are willing to forgive the Saudi government for its legacy of human rights violations, then those in need of capital might be able to tap into the country’s abundant resources to make movies.

Gray area
Many companies, including Endeavor, forswore Saudi money after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which was reportedly approved by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

  • But China’s lack of cooperation and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, along with European and US interest rate hikes, have recently made it more expensive to secure funds from the usual financiers.
  • Some companies wonder why they can take money from Europe, with its history of genocide, but not Saudi Arabia.

Safe zone?
Flush with cash from soaring oil prices, Saudi Arabia has the capital to finance Hollywood’s biggest movies.

  • It’s already spent billions on video game publishers and a new golf league. Now, it’s offering generous incentives to filmmakers and studios if they shoot on its soil.
  • Kandahar, an action film starring Gerard Butler, was shot primarily in Saudi Arabia after CAA connected the producers with MBC (a media company backed by the Saudi government, who provided considerable financial assistance to shoot there).
  • Many movies, including Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, have been filmed in Dubai next door, warming up American audiences to the Middle East.

Even though much of Hollywood is still reluctant to do business with Saudi Arabia, some people are wiping the slate clean in the name of filmmaking.

Kait Cunniff

Kait is a Chicago-raised, LA-based writer and NYU film grad. She created an anthology TV series for Refinery29 and worked as a development executive for John Wells Productions, Jon M. Chu, and Paramount Pictures. Her favorite color is orange.


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