We’ve criticized the hyping of organized crime links in the piracy debate, for reasons that have mostly to do with the economics of piracy: we haven’t seen any evidence that there’s much money in it anymore. Commercial pirates face massive and growing competition from free, mostly non-commercial internet distribution, and this has dramatically reduced profit margins on the kind of capitally-intensive, smuggling-based trade in optical disks that characterized the late 1990s and early 2000s. The same also applies to now-routine claims that piracy is a source of funding for terrorist groups–a subject on which the evidentiary record is thin and mostly very old, dating back to the 1980s or 1990s when piracy was more lucrative. The key document here is the MPAA-funded RAND report, Film Piracy, Organized Crime, and Terrorism, which offers “three… documented cases [that provide] clear evidence that terrorist groups have used the proceeds of film piracy to finance their activities.” We are very unimpressed with these cases, but the claim clearly has political utility and, in the piracy debate, that has always been more than enough.
But if we’re going to conduct a debate based on generalizations from sketchy anecdotes, surely the much more recent evidence of Hollywood’s connections to terrorism should be taken into account.
Here, for example, is another Bloomberg/Businessweek story from February 2011 (h/t Boing Boing), which reveals the shocking role that Muamar Qaddafi’s son Al-Saadi Qaddafi has played in bankrolling Hollywood movies. In 2009, Saadi Qaddafi put $100 million into a production company called Natural Selection, which released the Adrian Brody/Forrest Whittaker film, The Experiment, and which is (?) producing such future classics as the Mickey Rourke vehicle, The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer. (The film is apparently having trouble now that it has the Qaddafi stink on it.)
Unfortunately, the Bloomberg article sticks with the classic first line of defense against such stories: deluded rationalization.
“This son is quiet and legitimate and less political than his father,” said Wendy Mitchell, head of news at London-based film trade magazine Screen International. “It’s hard to get money to invest in films so I’m not sure people would necessarily go the other way. They were doing good business before all this happened.”
But that was February, and junior was already home. By March, the BBC was crediting him with giving the order to shoot civilian protesters in Benghazi. He is now likely to face a war crimes investigation by the International Criminal Court.
True, hindsight is 20/20, and late-blooming shame at taking money from the Qaddafi family is hardly limited to Hollywood producers. By mid-march, the story had become a minor public embarrassment.
But if Qaddafi hadn’t put himself so dramatically on the wrong side of US policy in the past two months, clearly none of this would have been of the slightest concern. Nobody would have asked where Saadi got his money, nor where the profits might go once they started rolling in.
What does the MPAA have to say about these terrorist connections? Nothing that I can find.
Ps. From Variety:
“The real question is, will oil money go to Arab culture, or will it go to Hollywood?” asked Franco-Tunisian maven Tarak Ben Ammar during a confab at the inaugural Doha Tribeca Film Fest in November. “(Look at the) buildings outside this hotel. Do you know how many Arab films could be made for the cost of one of those buildings?”
Is there any serious doubt about the answer to that question?
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