On Thursday, November 9, the end of the American actors’ strike was announced. In combination with the writers’ strike, the unions shut down Hollywood for six months. The consequences of the strike will be felt well into the next film and series season. Actors were not only banned from work by their union, but also had to stop all promotional activities, including their attendance at film premieres. The red carpets looked desolate.
Perhaps that is why there was so much anticipation for one of the first major premieres since the strike: the final season of the Netflix series The Crown, the first four episodes of which appeared worldwide on Netflix last week. At the Westwood Regency Village Theater in Los Angeles, some of the cast gathered on Sunday, November 12, to attend the screening of a few episodes. Expectations were high, not only because it is the final season, but also because the story brings us to the death of Diana and her lover Dodi, the Egyptian billionaire’s son, on August 31, 1997.
Without anyone answering the question whether we had actually missed the red carpet photography, it was back: the stiff poses, the grim smiles, the line of photographers shouting loudly trying to get the attention of the stars. The circus was in town again.
Producer Netflix had transformed the red carpet of the Regency Village Theater into a Hollywood-style palace facade, including a few hopefully well-paid extras to pose as palace guards. Attention mainly focused on the Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki, who has played the role of the unfortunate Diana since season 5. She posed with the young actors who play her teenage sons and with Khalid Abdalla who plays Dodi.
At a moment when Abdalla was alone in front of the camera (he clearly did not want to involve other actors) he raised his left hand to the photographers. Written in the palm of his hand were the words Ceasefire NOW. In the photo above Variety-photographer Michael Buckner, he looks serious, but in other photos with his hand raised he shows a broad smile. A photo of the hand appeared on his Instagram account with the text: ‘Because all lives are sacred. Because I believe in the power of the human heart. Because we have to be clear and open and do everything for a better world.’
The gesture was widely reported, although there is already a certain familiarity with these types of interventions, where any stage, including a climate march or a red carpet, can be hijacked or, if you like, used for different messages. The British newspaper TheTelegraph described it as an ‘anti-war statement’. Elsewhere in the press it was called a ‘political statement’, an ‘Israel-Gaza message’ or a ‘call for peace’.
Interesting figure, that Khalid Abdalla. Born in Glasgow, Scotland and raised in London as the son of two Egyptian doctors who emigrated. Both his father and grandfather campaigned against the regime in Egypt. Something that Khalid Abdalla continued in 2011 as one of the founders of the Mosireen Collective in Cairo, an organization that wanted to support citizen journalism in Egypt after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak.
As an actor with an Arab background, he could not completely escape typecasting. His breakthrough came in 2006 with his role as the Lebanese hijacker/pilot Ziad Jarrah in the Oscar-nominated United 93Paul Greengrass’ film about one of the 9/11 hijackings, in which the passengers overpowered the hijackers from the plane.
The Crown is one of the most popular series worldwide, and in this sixth and final season we inevitably arrive at the tragic end of Diana and Dodi. The role of Dodi in The Crown is by far the most visible role Khalid Abdalla has played to date. Dodi Fayed was the Alexandria, Egypt-born son of billionaire Mohamed Al Fayed, owner of Harrods, department store and London status symbol, who died this year. The ultimate outsider who tried to get into the highest British circles through his capital. Son Dodi was involved in a number of successful films through his family’s production company, Allied Stars, including Chariots of Fire. He was 42 when he died.
Back to the dozens of premiere photos that were posted on the website of the photo press agency Getty on November 12. Cheerful excitement in all shapes, sizes and ages among the cast. Khalid Abdalla was undoubtedly happy that the strike was over, for a variety of reasons. On October 17, he was one of the many signatories of an online petition in which more than four thousand artists from across the art field are now asking for a ceasefire. Khalid Abdalla will not be the last to demand attention in this way.