Earlier this year, Mexican actress, producer and director Salma Hayek made headlines by coordinating a Mexican sing-along surprise to conclude the Cannes 70th anniversary gala dinner.
“My husband trembles to learn what new insanity I’m going to come up with,” she tells Mediaplanet. Hayek got the idea earlier that day while spending time with her Mexican colleagues. “I felt so proud that, in the industry of cinema, Latinos are making really high-level art.”
After midnight, Guillermo del Toro conducted the mariachi band she had brought in from Paris. The celebration included a handful of Salma’s friends, including Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal and Alejandro González Iñárritu.
Hayek has about a million reasons to celebrate. Her latest project, and second of three films to release this year, “Beatriz at Dinner,” opened to rave reviews – some of the best of her career. In the film, Salma plays a Mexican immigrant working as a holistic health practitioner who unexpectedly finds herself at the dinner party hosted of a very wealthy client. The film’s timing could not feel more relevant to our current cultural and political climate.
“What I love about the movie is that it’s not trying to send one specific message,” she explains. “From this character, I learned that we all have a sense of nostalgia…to go back in time to a place where you felt pure and safe, whether that’s at home when you were little or in your grandmother’s kitchen. At the end of the day, the most different people in the world are looking for that safe place. I think if we can reconnect to that somehow, we can all get along.”
Beatriz is not a typical Mexican character; she is not submissive or flirtatious. Instead, she is valorous, spiritual and certain. “I found it very liberating to not feel the pressure to need to be beautiful,” she shares. “It’s really a wonderful thing to feel like you don’t have to be beautiful to be appreciated.”
The role of representation
A recent study by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism found Latinos to be among the least represented speaking roles in film and TV, despite making up about 17.4 percent of the U.S. population. Out of more than 11,000 speaking characters surveyed, just 5.8 percent were Hispanic or Latino.
“The entertainment industry should be a reflection of the society that we live in,” she continues. “The industry is failing in representing our nation and the humans that live in it.”
While Hayek is mostly known for her work in front of the camera, being an actress wasn’t her first choice.
“I wanted to direct,” she laughs. “I’m glad I am an actress today, but it wasn’t my first love. When I was very young, I saw a movie called ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,’ and I realized that in the movies, there’s a universe where anything is possible. I fell in love with that concept; of breaking all the rules and having no limitations. The ground can be made of chocolate, the flowers can be candy. Anything can happen.”
Though acting may not have been Hayek’s first choice, it has proven endlessly rewarding and satisfying. “Being an actress is really exciting because you get to explore, in their skin, many kinds of people.” Hayek became the first Mexican actress to be nominated for Best Actress at the 2002 Academy Awards for her starring role in the biopic “Frida;” here’s hoping “Beatriz” brings a similar triumph.
“Salma Hayek gives the performance of her career in this stealth weapon of a comedy,” stated film critic Peter Travers. Los Angeles Times critic Justin Chang agreed, saying, “An elegant, squirm-inducing dark comedy…veers into richly unsettling dramatic territory, anchored by perhaps the finest, most controlled performance of Hayek’s career.”
In these politically-trying times, Salma hopes that her work, both on and off the screen, will continue to promote peace and understanding. “We must figure out how we’re affecting others, how we’re including others. We are all human. We have to be gentle with each other, with the planet, most importantly, with ourselves.”
Hayek attributes much of her success to her heritage and upbringing. “My heritage means so much to me; I’m very proud to be Hispanic,” she states. “I take it with me everywhere I go. Our culture is romantic, poetic, and I love that no matter what happens, we always have a sense of humor. It’s what makes us survivors.”
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