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United Kingdom

Hollywood stars attend Saudi Arabia film showcase year after Khashoggi killing

Hollywood and Bollywood stars raised eyebrows on Sunday by appearing in Saudi Arabia at a conference to promote the kingdom’s entertainment industry, almost exactly a year after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Jackie Chan, Jean-Claude van Damme and Aquaman star Jason Momoa took to the stage in Riyadh alongside Shah Rukh Khan, known in India as the King of Bollywood.

The four posed happily for photos inside the Ritz Carlton, host of the two-day Joy Forum, and van Damme playfully showed off a stunt kick aimed at Saudi director Abdulaziz Al-Muzaini.

The fees paid to the four were not disclosed, but Momoa is said to command $200,000 per appearance, according to The New York Post.

The paper reported that the organisers' original first choices - Will Smith and Russell Crowe - declined to attend.

Representatives of the four did not respond to requests for comment.

Khashoggi, one of the kingdom’s most prominent writers and critics, was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 last year.

In the interim many Hollywood figures have been wary about involvement with the country.

Actor Gerard Butler cancelled his trip to Saudi Arabia last year to promote his film Hunter Killer, over the killing of Khashoggi.

"The timing couldn't have been worse," he said.

"We heard about Khashoggi going missing the day before we were supposed to leave, two days before, but the next day was when we had to go and it just didn't feel like a smart move.

“It felt very insensitive and it's something that we shouldn't really be getting involved with, so we thought we're going to stay away from that.”

Amr bin Ahmad Banaja, CEO of Joy Forum, said the country was “moving ahead with its efforts to build a competitive entertainment industry, bringing together local and international talent to create a first-rate regional entertainment industry hub.”

He added: "People used to travel and spend money outside Saudi Arabia for entertainment. We want to bring that back in to Saudi Arabia and create as many options as possible."

In November film studio Legendary Entertainment, which is behind films such as Jurassic World and Interstaller, was forced to deny a report that it was considering accepting a $700 million investment from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund PIF. Legendary said it had “no interest” in accepting the cash.

Furthermore a series of entertainment executives including STX CEO Robert Simonds, Viacom's Bob Bakish and others, pulled out of Saudi Arabia's flagship investor conference in October last year.

In March of this year Hollywood talent agency Endeavor handed back a $400 million investment from PIF because, The Hollywood Reporter said, of “the poor optics of a continued association with the Saudis”.

Their concern, however, has not stopped the Saudis from pushing ahead with their plans to present the kingdom as an attractive film destination.

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