Will Smith’s Dubai dreams

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Will Smith

“Dubai dreams the way I dream,” effused actor Will Smith at a recent press conference in the luxe emirate to promote Suicide Squad, his latest horribly reviewed, massively profitable contribution to the art of cinema. “It really flows with who I am….You never know why a city speaks to you… it’s just the energy of progress here.”

As we’ve seen, this is a dude who fancies himself a deep thinker, a moral authority, a preacher of good values and responsible parenting, and an all-around paragon of principle. He plainly thinks he’s worked out an intellectually sophisticated and ethically admirable philosophy of life that he’s obligated to share with us lesser beings. When his daughter, Willow, now 15, tweets that “ANYTHING that I EVER do is geared towards the evolution and vibrational elevation of this planet through the inspiration of individuals,” it’s because she’s been hearing her father and her actress mother, Jada Pinkett Smith, spout this kind of inane New Age rhetoric ever since she was in the cradle.

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Willow Smith

And yet there he was, Will Smith, the fount of all that self-consciously high-minded claptrap, sitting in front of a worshipful media audience at the Mall of the Emirates, rhapsodizing over a country that Freedom House considers “not free” – a sharia-ruled country where public kissing and drinking alcohol are punishable by 80 lashes, where premarital sex is punished by 100 lashes, and where adultery, apostasy, and homosexuality are punished by death. Yes, death. (Usually stoning.)

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Will Smith skydiving in Dubai

It’s a country where critics of the regime are routinely imprisoned, tortured, and “disappeared.” A country where Muslim women, in accordance with sharia law, are at best second-class citizens: they’re prohibited from marrying non-Muslim men (even though Muslim men can wed non-Muslim women); the law recognizes their husbands’ absolute right to rape and beat them at will; and their own rights are thoroughly subordinated to men’s in cases of divorce, child custody, and a range of other matters.

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Marte Dalelv after her release

It’s also a country where a woman who accuses a man of rape is likely to be flogged and imprisoned as punishment for having had extramarital sex. (Three years ago, a Norwegian woman, Marte Dalelv, was sentenced to sixteen months in Dubai after saying she’d been raped; she was released and allowed to return home only after her case sparked international media outrage.) 

Did Will Smith take a stand on the UAE’s barbaric human-rights practices? No. He didn’t say a word.

But hey, this doesn’t meant that he and his wife, Jada, shy away from speaking up about moral outrages. After all, it was just a few months ago that Jada courageously addressed (in the video below) an equally appalling example of man’s inhumanity to man – namely, the fact that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had failed to nominate any persons of color for this year’s acting awards. (Many observers speculated that Jada was irked that Will hadn’t received an Oscar nod for his movie Concussion, even though he’d made the short list at the Golden Globes.)

Unsurprisingly, the UAE media welcomed Smith’s harsh remarks about his own countrymen – the Donald Trump followers he wants to see “cleansed” from society, the “Islamophobia” he views as primitive and misguided. But this slick know-it-all didn’t seem to be remotely aware (or, perhaps, simply didn’t care) that he was savaging his fellow Americans in a nation where any criticism of its own public officials or royals is absolutely verboten. Where, indeed, the very freedom of expression that makes Smith’s entire career possible is severely restricted – along, we might add, with the freedom of religion and of assembly that, back in the U.S.A., allow him to spout his vapid creed before the TV cameras without fear of incarceration, torture, or death.

Depardieu et ses amis

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Gérard Depardieu

Over the course of his long career, the veteran French actor Gérard Depardieu has been showered with numerous awards and nominations. He’s been nominated once for an Oscar and fifteen times for the César (France’s answer to the Oscar). He won the Golden Globe in 1991 for his role in Green Card as the unlikely love interest of Andie MacDowell. He’s also won best actor awards at the Cannes and Venice film festivals. He’s been named a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur.

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Les Deux amis

And he’s won one other major prize – the friendship of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

In June, we wrote about a Moscow event back in December 2010 at which Depardieu – along with a number of other screen idols, among them Sharon Stone, Goldie Hawn, and Mickey Rourkepartied into the night with Vladimir Putin. 

But Depardieu appears to be especially close to the Kremlin leader. And this relationship has already won him yet another prize: in 2013, after Depardieu criticized his homeland, the Republic of France, for its high tax rates, Putin arranged for him to have a Russian passport. Depardieu snapped it up gratefully – and gleefully. 

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Depardieu with his Russian passport

I adore my Russian passport,” he has said. “I feel very Russian inside.”

He’s been a good friend to Putin. For example, he made comments suggesting that he fully supported his pal’s annexation of Crimea. In July, Ivan Kirilenko, Ukraine’s culture minister, reacted to his remarks by  banning Depardieu from entering his country. 

Flash forward to early October, when Depardieu had what was apparently a wide-ranging interview with Russian journalists. True to form, he wasn’t shy. Among other things, he expressed remarkable contempt for American culture. (This, as pointed out by many Western reporters who’ve passed along bits of his disparaging rant, from an actor who in Peter Weir’s Green Card “played a man willing to do anything to live in the USA.”)

greencardOne excerpt of Depardieu’s wisdom: “I have never wanted to be a U.S. citizen. That’s totally out of the question. They have a very aggressive culture. And I don’t like U.S. films.” This from an actor who’s accepted generous paychecks for appearing in several of them.

Here’s more: “The U.S.? They’re a people who have constantly destroyed others. They fought each other, destroyed the Indians, after that they perpetrated slavery, then there was the Civil War.” Then “they were the first to use the atomic bomb. Everywhere they go, they cause shit.” This from a Frenchman who was born in 1948, three years after American soldiers liberated his country from the Nazis.

(There’s no indication, by the way, that he said anything to those Russian reporters about some of the rather questionable activities of Napoleon, Stalin, and other familiar names from French and Russian history.) 

Depardieu_2527989b“If the Europeans stopped listening to the Americans,” Depardieu concluded, “well, I’d be a lot happier.”

Depardieu also told his Russian interlocutors that he “prefers being Russian.” Not that he lives there. Some confusion seems to surround the question of where exactly he is currently domiciled. In September, he informed reporters that he planned to unload all his possessions in France – including a vineyard in the Loire Valley and a couple of restaurants in Paris. He’s now reportedly in Italy, although he’s also suggested that he might pack his things and relocate to Belarus. Why? One reason, he’s said, is that the vile autocrat who runs Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko – who is famously known as “Europe’s last dictator,” and who, if anything, is an even more transparent and unsavory thug than Putin – is a “nice guy.”

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Depardieu and Lusashenko out scything

Well, nice to Depardieu, anyway. This summer the two of them went out into the Belarusian countryside and scythed grass together. Pictures of their bucolic adventure, published in the Guardian, made them look like a chummy pair indeed. 

That friendship, as it happens, has also paid off handsomely for Depardieu. In late September, the Hollywood Reporter noted that Lukashenko was kicking in $2 million to help finance a World War II film, Normandie-Niemen, starring the French actor. It’s good to have friends, n’est-ce pas?