About a dozen protesters from Code Pink, a social justice organization, demonstrated at WME’s Beverly Hills offices against Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, decrying a Saudi-sponsored military intervention in Yemen that has contributed to a humanitarian crisis.
WME’s offices were chosen because of the pending deal between its parent company, Endeavor, and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, which is nearing a transaction believed to be $400 million to $500 million for a minority stake in the entertainment company.
Salman, who is in Los Angeles on Monday, is in the middle of a three-week tour of the U.S. in an effort to court American investment in the country, which has undergone some modernizing reforms, including granting women the right to drive and lifting a 35-year-old ban on cinemas in the country.
The charm offensive includes stops in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Seattle, where Salman has met with industry titans and political leaders. In Los Angeles, Salman is expected to rub shoulders with entertainment industry leaders like Disney’s Bob Iger, Warner Bros.’ Kevin Tsujihara, and others.
The removal of the cinema ban has sparked the interest of U.S. entertainment companies eager to enter a new market and to find a new source of foreign investment after China sharply curtailed foreign investment in Hollywood.
“Prince bin Salman is here in Beverly Hills and Hollywood and talking to people who run studios,” said Jodie Evans, the organizer of Monday’s demonstration. “This is a man that doesn’t allow the freedom of women or human rights in his country. He’s bombing Yemen into a humanitarian crisis, and everybody thinks he’s charming. He’s not charming. That we’re normalizing violence in the time of #MeToo is tragic.”
Evans and other demonstrators criticized what they said is sophisticated public-relations campaign to make the country’s recent reforms seem more progressive and palatable. “I think he’s blowing smoke up the a– of Americans so that he can bomb Yemen,” Evans said.
Michele Modglin, a 67-year-old retired nurse practitioner, agreed, saying Salman is simply trying to change perception of Saudi Arabia so that its human rights violations record can be overlooked.
The protest was a small one, but still attracted the curiosity of passersby, including a TMZ celebrity tour bus. “The Saudi Prince is a war criminal,” Modglin and others shouted at the bus. One woman entering the Equinox gym nearby offered her support, saying, “You all are awesome,” as she went inside.
A WME spokeswoman said Monday that there were no meetings planned at WME between bin Salman and the agency’s co-CEO, Ari Emanuel.