MDL Beast, a music festival in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, has recently landed many celebrities in hot water.
Over the weekend, dozens of models and influencers (Irina Shayk, Joan Smalls, Sofia Richie), as well as actors (Ed Westwick, Armie Hammer) are facing criticism for accepting a paid trip to the musical event. However, it wasn't the expense-free vacation itself that sparked backlash, but rather the promotion of Saudi Arabia as a tourist destination despite its human rights record, including the country's stance on women's rights and the LGBTQ community.
Instagram account @dietprada was one of the first to call out the festival's attendees for supporting the rehabilitation of the country's public image.
"What’s worse than an all white @revolve influencer trip? 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," the account wrote alongside several images of famous faces posing in the desert and at event venue.
Diet Prada continued the statement by highlighting several instances of human rights abuses reportedly committed by the Saudi government (including the murder of journalist Jamal Kashoggi, as well as the arrest of women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul), and slamming the influencers and celebrities that accepted money to promote the trip.
They also highlighted celebrities like Emily Ratajkowski who turned down the opportunity. “It is 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,” she told Diet Prada. “I hope coming forward on this brings more attention to the injustices happening there.”
Meanwhile, Martha Hunt also publicly declined the trip, noting on Instagram Stories: "I stand in solidarity with the repressed people of Saudi Arabia and refuse to be used as a campaign to cover up those suffering from injustice. I encourage other influencers to make informed monetized decisions based on social conscience and integrity."
In September, Saudi Arabia announced it would open itself to foreign tourism, offering tourism visas and enacting new policies that would make the destination more appealing to Westerners, such as allowing solo female travelers and unmarried couples to book hotel rooms. Following these changes, @dietprada claims the kingdom "has been spending billions to change its image in the west, but this [MDL Beast] is sure to be the most expensive campaign yet."