I’m told that the Saudi Ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal, left Washington D.C. on Saturday and is cocooning with his family at their Beverly Hills estate for the rest of the summer until October. It turns out the envoy’s primary pasttime while he’s here is to watch Hollywood movies in his home’s well-appointed screening room. So far, the only movie that Prince Turki has requested to see is Paramount’s Mission Impossible 3 starring Tom Cruise. I’ve learned that, when informed the prince wanted to screen MI3 and needed more movies, one Paramount executive snickered, “Yeah, I’ll give him World Trade Center.” So I asked the prince’s film guru, the Sunset Screening Room’s Walter Moshay, if that might be a movie the ambassador would see. “I would imagine so. I’ll find out,” Moshay told me today. I’ve learned that al-Faisal is no stranger to controversial Hollywood films. Moshay tells me that one of the movies he recommended and screened for the prince last summer was Lionsgate’s Lord of War, the film also starring Nicolas Cage as a globetrotting arms dealer operating in some of the deadliest war zones and arming many of the world’s most notorious dictators until his own conscience kicks in. And, according to news reports, this son of the late King Faisal weighed into the controversy surrounding Michael Moore’s documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, terming it “grossly unfair” to Saudis. The ambassador complained Moore failed to carry out proper research and dismissed the movie’s claims that the Bush administration helped high-ranking Saudis leave the U.S. immediately after 9/11 attacks.
Asked about Prince Turki’s viewing habits, Moshay told me today, “I try to line up films for him when he comes out here for his annual vacation. That’s his only relaxation — dinner, then watch a movie. I deliver the prints and run the films in his screening room.” Moshay says the ambassador likes “good drama pieces or good action pieces, but not usually comedies.” (So there goes Paramount’s plan to send him Failure To Launch starring Matthew McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker. Besides, I don’t think the plot –about parents trying to push out their thirtysomething son who still lives at home with them – would resonate, given that the Saudi royal family is such tightly knit clan.) Moshay says he also picks out animated films to screen for the kids who hang out.
According to news reports and his official biography, Prince Turki, 61, led the Saudi external intelligence service for 24 years until August 2001, then cut his diplomatic teeth as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the UK and Ireland. Analysts considered Prince Turki to be a skilled diplomat steering a difficult course as envoy to London in the period between 9/11 and the US-led invasion of Iraq. Since 2005, the prince has maintained the relations between Washington and Riyadh built up by his predecessor, his brother-in-law Prince Bandar bin Sultan. A member of the Saudi royal family, he has repeatedly defended his country against claims it could do more to tackle the threat posed by al-Qaeda. During the 1980s he had contact with Osama bin Laden and, in 1998, sought unsuccessfully to have the al-Qaeda chief extradited from Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia. In December 2004, Prince Turki accepted substantial libel damages and an apology from the French magazine Paris Match over claims he himself was linked to the 9/11 attacks. The prince described the allegations as “outrageous” and condemned al-Qaeda as an “evil cult” which the international community must destroy.
One of America’s greatest exports, as we all know, is Hollywood films. They can bridge understanding between cultures, they can reinforce stereotypes that foment tensions between nations, or they can allow different peoples to see the United States in a new way. Given recent news events in the Middle East, I believe Hollywood studios have a rare opportunity right now during these unsettled times — if they take advantage of it. Moshay will be responsible for coming up with more titles. “He never watches a movie more than once so he needs a whole bunch of them. I’d like to know what’s available.”