It has taken me a minute to fully wrap my head around and unpack this conversation. I really wanted to talk about it but I want to make sure I’m clear about my position. In my mind, this is a teaching moment for many of us in the LatinX community…I’ll explain…
Recently the LA Times published this story
Celebration of women filmmakers triggers heated debate among Salma Hayek, Jessica Williams and Shirley MacLaine – LA Times
The article is a fly on the wall type of piece describing a Sundance Film Festival Luncheon Celebrating Women in film. Contact reporter Amy Kaufman set the scene, “Under the cavernous, vaulted ceiling of a mountain mansion, where the driveway was heated, an indoor stream trickled and a string of faux llamas stood guard on the stone staircase.”
Ok, well that really puts things into perspective, it tells me a lot about the kind of privilege that will exist at this table. Still, it is always exciting to hear about powerful women coming together to discuss how to create more opportunity for other women.
The guest list included some of the biggest bitches in the business. Elle Fanning and director Kimberly Pierce were among the names being dropped. I wish I was here to talk about all the ways in which these women came together and built houses with an ample number of doors for women, particularly women of color, to walk through.
I’m not here for that though. Instead I’m here to call out Salma for her shitty ass example of sisterhood…it all started when Salma suggested that the obstacles one faces is all in one’s mind. Shirley suggested that if we just tap into our core identities there isn’t anything we can’t do.
However, what if your core identity and the ways in which the world perceives you is in conflict? From the article:
My question is: What if you are a person of color, or a transgendered person who — just from how you look — you already are in a conflict? – Jessica Williams
At this point Shirley and Salma shut the entire fuck up, gestured to Jessica to continue, inviting her to elaborate on her thoughts so that everyone at the table could absorb and think deeply on it.
Just kidding, they did what all white feminists do…they fucking diminished her point completely and went as far as to make her feel a way for asking the question at all. It was clear from the article she was not in safe space.
At the end of the day, Jessica summed it up thusly:
Some days, I’m just black,and I’m just a woman. Like, it’s not my choice.
That’s the crux of it for me, the issue isn’t about how Jessica sees herself but how society perceives her and in response the barriers to success that are put in place. Including less pay, less opportunity, and less chance of upward mobility. In the film industry we can also consider less chance of being represented in any real and meaningful way.
This is a conversation that needs to be had, especially among the people who can change perceptions. That’s not the conversation they had though.
Instead Salma says:
I feel misunderstood on one point: We should be also curious about our brain. By being the best that you can be. That’s what I was trying to say to you. Let’s not just spend all the time in the anger, but in the investigation.
Baby, I’m Mexican and Arab. I’m from another generation, baby, when this was not even a possibility. My generation, they said, ‘Go back to Mexico. You’ll never be anything other than a maid in this country.’ By the heads of studios! There was no movement. Latino women were not even anywhere near where you guys are. I was the first one. I’m 50 years old. So I understand.
You see the subtle way Salma just called Jessica an angry black woman? Did you catch that shit? Fuck you Salma, for real. How dare you fix yourself to challenge a Black woman’s experience? You have been swimming in your privilege for too long.
This type of tone deaf response to the valid, lived experiences black women face is a direct manifestation of the real anti-blackness that many LatinX communities are steeped in.
Part of Salma’s success may be due in part to her talents and her guts but let’s be real she fits the description. She checks all the boxes of perfect European beauty standards. Her looks are palpable to the white gaze, her face perfectly symmetrical and her accent considered sexy coming out of her perfectly pouty lips. These things helped stack the deck in her favor.
I wish, at this luncheon, with these women, on this platform, we could’ve gone where Jessica wanted to go. I wish Salma would’ve held the space for her to delve, more deeply, in the ways we can check our cis-hetero, white supremacists, patriarchal tendencies to provide better opportunities for more marginalized sisters.
Shame on her for letting the opportunity to show up for Black women pass her by. Shame on every potential ally who follows that script.