The murder of Saudi-dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi shook the world when it went public, as it was quite clear Khashoggi was murdered at the direction of the State. It was also clear that Western countries had become too cozy with the Saudis to make any real moves towards seeking justice. A film depicting Khashoggi’s life and work has now been released in the US, but the question remains: will anyone be able to see it?
The film, entitled The Dissident premiered at Sundance to wide critical acclaim, garnering a standing ovation from viewers. A review from Variety called it “an eye-opening brew of corruption, cover-up and real-world courage.” Alec Baldwin, who attended the premier, tweeted his praise as well. He stated: The truth is being dismembered in Washington. But it is alive and well in the work of Bryan Fogel.”
The prospects of the movie seemed great at first glance, due to overwhelming public support. However, producers were aware that the Saudi government would try to quell distribution, via its enormous financial influence in the West. Director Bryan Fogel stated his belief that distributors would stand up to Saudi Arabia, should they try to silence the film. However, it seems his view on the matter was too optimistic, as a great push-back from Riyadh is already effecting the deals The Dissident has been able to secure.
Months after the screening, no deal has been reached as to American distribution. The creators have said they are still “discussing options”, but no further information has been released at this time. Fans of the film are already pointing to the Saudis as the culprit behind the distribution block, citing the film’s hard-hitting approach as a motive. There’s no proof that this is the case, but it’s true that an episode of comedy series Patriot Act was recently censored by Netflix, due to pressure from Saudi Arabia.
The film’s creators are ready to offer up serious criticism in regards to the industry. Shaun Penn, a vocal supporter of the film, has criticized Netflix in particular, stating that the company is too busy paying off settlements for sexual misconduct to pay a glance to a film about Khashoggi. Also critical of Netflix is actor Alan Baldwin, who stated the following: “One of the most important cylinders of [America’s] engine of democracy is this industry, is the industry we work in. People count on you and they count on them [Fogel and Penn] to make films like this to tell them the truth about what’s going on, because they’re not going to hear it anywhere else in the world we live in today.”
For now, only the future can say if criticisms will reach Netflix regarding the film, or merely fall on deaf ears.