Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, kicked off a week in Los Angeles with an intimate dinner at Murdoch’s estate with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Morgan Freeman, James Cameron and more.
The Prince met The Rock on an historic night in Hollywood.
Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, began a whirlwind trip to Los Angeles on Monday with a string of meetings with some of the biggest names in entertainment, capped by an intimate dinner at Rupert Murdoch’s Bel Air estate. In attendance, sources at the event tell The Hollywood Reporter, were Disney CEO Bob Iger and wife Willow Bay, Universal film chairman Jeff Shell, Fox TV exec Peter Rice and film studio chief Stacey Snider, as well as actors Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas and, yes, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
The 32-year-old crown prince, often referred to by the abbreviation MBS, met with the moguls as part of a three-week, multi-city tour of the U.S., which comes on the heels of a tumultuous few months back in his country. Experts are interpreting the trip as an effort to shore up ties with American politicians and business leaders and to flesh out potential investment opportunities, including those in the media and entertainment industries. Showbiz executives, eager to court the billions of dollars of wealth controlled by the Saudi ruling family, mobilized in force to meet MBS.
Over the weekend, staffers at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills were scrambling to finish last-minute preparations for bin Salman’s arrival. He and his entourage are staying there for the duration of his visit in L.A., and he has bought out all 285 rooms, including 100 suites. Other cities on MBS’ itinerary include Washington, D.C., New York, Boston, Houston, San Francisco and Seattle.
On Monday night, approximately 20 people gathered at the Bel Air event, which doubled as a return to public life for the 87-year-old Murdoch, who has been recovering from a serious back injury suffered in January. Murdoch’s wife, Jerry Hall, joined Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara, Nat Geo CEO Courtney Monroe and filmmakers James Cameron and Ridley Scott.
Sources in attendance say the event was social and not political. There was a long cocktail hour during which wines from Murdoch’s vineyard were served. Before dinner, the crown prince briefly spoke about reforms in his kingdom, as well as the dangers of radicalism in the Middle East. He also stressed the importance of the Saudi-U.S. relationship. After the short speech, a source tells THR that Murdoch initiated a brief question and answer session with MBS. Murdoch himself is said to have asked a question about the Muslim Brotherhood.
At the end of the dinner, several members of the crown prince’s entourage took selfies with the actors.
The Murdoch meet-and-greet isn’t the only social event on MBS’ L.A. calendar. Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel is reportedly organizing a dinner for bin Salman with producer Brian Grazer. The crown prince is also reportedly set to meet with Oprah Winfrey during his trip.
It didn’t take long for his arrival to cause a stir on the streets of Beverly Hills and across social media platforms. Demonstrators organized by the feminist group Code Pink hit Emanuel’s WME headquarters to protest the Saudi regime’s treatment of women. Excerpts of an interview bin Salman gave to The Atlantic, in which he compared Iran’s supreme leader to Hitler and denied the existence of an extreme form of Islamic teaching known as Wahhabism, resurfaced.
Bin Salman was appointed as heir to the Saudi throne by his father, King Salman, in June of last year. Since assuming power, he has projected the image of a reformer, vowing to modernize Saudi Arabia’s conservative regime. He has pledged to break down some of the country’s most draconian social rules, including an end to the 35-year ban on cinemas. But in the process he has been accused of using the traditional tactics of a dictator.
In November, his regime arrested hundreds of wealthy Saudis, including princes, officials and businessmen. One of the powerful officials caught up in the sting was Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, a former major shareholder of Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox and an investor in Disney’s European theme park business.