THE 2018 murder of Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi at his country’s consulate in Istanbul gave the world a glimpse of the supernaturally evil side of international politics. It’s not that we didn’t know this side existed: We’ve seen wars, we’ve seen revelations of torture, we’ve seen deranged, narcissistic sociopaths reach the highest levels of government all across the world. But there was something uniquely unspeakable about the idea of a man calmly walking into his government’s office in another country, shaking hands, and then promptly being strangled, dismembered, and disposed of—it was as if a wormhole had opened up into another, more medieval dimension.
THE DISSIDENT DIRECTED BY BRYAN FOGEL. BRIARCLIFF ENTERTAINMENT. PG-13.
Of course, it wasn’t another dimension at all. It’s the one we’re living in, and Bryan Fogel’s documentary The Dissident seeks to make sense of Khashoggi’s story in the context of Saudi Arabia’s increasing efforts to quell dissent, even as the country attempts to open up and modernize. And the director certainly seems to have struck a nerve: The New York Times recently reported that Fogel, despite having won an Oscar for his previous documentary, the incendiary Russian-doping scandal exposé Icarus, found almost no takers for The Dissident among major distributors and streaming services after the film’s premiere at Sundance, possibly because they were afraid of pissing off the Saudi government. (The film premiered on demand this month and opened in a small number of theaters in late December.) It would certainly have been a nobrainer for Netflix, which released Icarus, to put out The Dissident—but perhaps the company was worried about its impending eight-picture deal with a Saudi studio, which was announced in November, and its efforts to expand in the Middle East and the Arab world. And it would have been an even bigger no-brainer for it to be released by Amazon, owned by Jeff Bezos, who, after all, also owns the Washington Post, where Khashoggi was a contributor.
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