Several actors, DJs, models and Instagram influencers have come under fire for promoting a music festival in Saudi Arabia, a country with a horrific human rights record.
Electronic festival MDL Beast took place on 21-23 December in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital, with a lineup that included DJs David Guetta, Dish Dash, Tiesto and Steve Aoki.
While the model Emily Ratajkowski reportedly rejected the festival out of concern for human rights, the actors Armie Hammer and Ed Westwick both attended, as did supermodels Jazelle, Joan Smalls, Amy Jackson and Alessandro Ambrosio.
The Conde Nast publication Glamour UK also included a sponsored campaign from the festival.
They are now being condemned for giving their support to the festival, with many noting that Saudi Arabia still enforces gender segregation and punishes homosexuality with death.
Podcast host and writer Aminatou Sow said on Twitter that influencer culture was “shameless”, while fashion commentator Diet Prada accused those involved of taking part in “rehabilitating” the country’s image in return for six-figure sums.
“What’s worse than an all white @revolve influencer trip?” their Instagram post asked. “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.”
In a statement addressed to Diet Prada, Ratajkowski explained why she declined to attend the festival.
“It’s 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,” she said.
Praising the festival, Armie Hammer declared that it felt like a “cultural shift” – although the culture hasn’t shifted far enough to stop punishing homosexuality with public whippings, chemical castrations, life imprisonment, torture and death.
Journalist Yashar Ali responded by asking Hammer: “Did you find Jamal Khashoggi’s body while you were there?”
Another commenter asked: “How much did Mohammed Bin Salman pay you to say this?”