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Endeavor is extricating itself from a deal with the Saudi government to invest $400 million into the company, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.
The move comes as pressure mounts for Hollywood to take a stand against the kingdom in the wake of the disappearance — and possible murder — of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who wrote for The Washington Post.
Sources say paperwork is being drawn up that would terminate the deal for the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund, which was created by the government to back projects at home and abroad, to take a 5-10 percent stake in Endeavor.
Earlier in the day, Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel said he was “monitoring” the situation and stressed that he is “personally … really concerned” but would not commit to ending the relationship, which represented a sizable chunk of Endeavor’s future balance sheet.
Endeavor declined comment.
WME does, however, represent a number of high-profile journalists like Ronan Farrow, Soledad O’Brien and Joe Scarborough. Sources say many had been putting pressure on Emanuel to cut ties with Saudi Arabia.
“This wasn’t a reaction to the clients. The company would have gone this path regardless,” says a knowledgeable source.
Unlike other media entities that have pulled out of the upcoming Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, WME had far more at stake. On Friday, STX CEO Bob Simonds became the latest executive to drop out of the conference, following departures by Viacom’s Bob Bakish, Los Angeles Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong and CNBC anchor Andrew Ross Sorkin. CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg and The Financial Times have all withdrawn as media sponsorships from the Oct. 23-25 event, joining The New York Times, which pulled out as a partner earlier this week.
Endeavor isn’t the only Hollywood entity doing business with the Saudi government. AMC, Imax, World Wrestling Entertainment and others all have significant entanglements. Most have either refused to comment on the Khashoggi situation or issued statements that they were “monitoring the situation.”
Khashoggi hasn’t been seen since entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. Turkish authorities have accused Saudi Arabia of carrying out a brutal murder of the journalist, a noted critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Monday’s move by Endeavor comes in sharp contrast to the treatment that MBS, as the Crown Prince is widely known, received when he visited Hollywood in April. During his stay, he was feted by everyone from Disney’s Bob Iger to Rupert Murdoch, who hosted a dinner party at his Bel Air estate that drew the likes of 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 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.