From the Los Angeles Times, a blow-by-blow account of a feminist celebrity struggle session at the Sundance film festival:
Celebration of women filmmakers triggers heated debate among Salma Hayek, Jessica Williams and Shirley MacLaine
… Here at the home of ChefDance CEO and founder Mimi Kim, Woodard, Shirley MacLaine, Elle Fanning and Jill Soloway were just part of a formidable group gathered during the Sundance Festival for a lunch to celebrate women in film. …
Shirley MacLaine, at 82, wearing purple and pink in honor of Saturday’s Women’s Marches, chimed in, saying that Donald Trump presented a challenge to “each of our inner democracy” and urged everyone at the table to explore their “core identity.”
Then Jessica Williams, the former “Daily Show” correspondent who was at Sundance as the star of Jim Strouse’s “The Incredible Jessica James,” spoke up.
“I have a question for you,” Williams, 27, said to MacLaine. “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?”
“Right, but change your point of view,” MacLaine offered. “Change your point of view of being victimized. I’m saying: Find the democracy inside.”
What does “democracy inside” mean? That you should give each of the voices in your head an equal vote? Each of your past lives gets a say?
“I’m sorry,” [Salma] Hayek said, jumping in. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Williams answered.
Uh-oh … Microaggression!
I realize Salma is now 50, but it’s probably not a good idea for a 27-year-old actress to call her “ma’am.” Just sayin’ …
“Who are you when you’re not black and you’re not a woman? Who are you and what have you got to give?”
Williams took a deep breath. “A lot. But some days, I’m just black, and I’m just a woman,” she said. “Like, it’s not my choice. I know who I am. I know I’m Jessica, and I’m the hottest bitch on the planet I know.”
It’s generally not advisable to say that to Salma Hayek. The question of who, exactly, is the hottest bitch on the planet has never been one that Salma can ponder, which she does every time she looks in a mirror, with wholly disinterested objectivity.
“No, no, no,” Hayek said. “Take the time to investigate. That’s the trap! …There is so much more.”
“Right,” agreed MacClaine. “The more is inside.”
On the inside, for example, Shirley MacClaine is also, via her famous past lives, an androgyne of the pre-Atlantis Lemurian era, the harem girl of a Turkish pasha, a dancing girl of Old Isfahan, and “I remembered being a Muslim gypsy girl who had migrated from Morocco and was living with the Coptic Christians in the hills of Spain.”
Top that for Intersectional Pokemon Points, Jessica Williams!
Williams, whose speech at the women’s march at Sundance was praised as one of the most powerful and effective last week, looked down and said she was struggling to articulate herself. Peirce [the butch lesbian director of Boys Don't Cry] tried to help her, saying that when she goes out in public looking masculine, she causes discomfort in a way Williams might as a black woman.
But that wasn’t quite right.
There’s nothing straight black starlets like Jessica Williams appreciate more than being told that they are about as alluring as white middle-aged butch lesbians.
So after a few moments of reflection, Williams returned to Hayek.
“I think what you’re saying is valid, but I also think that what you’re saying doesn’t apply to all women. I think that’s impossible.”
“What part of it is impossible?” Hayek responded. “You’re giving attention to how the other one feels.”
“Because I have to,” Williams said.
”If you have to do that, then do that,” Hayek said. “Then that’s your journey. But I want to inspire other people to know it’s a choice.”
This was when “Mudbound” filmmaker Dee Rees — who had moments earlier introduced herself as a black, queer director — jumped in. At this lunch, she said, she didn’t feel like she was posing a threat to anyone. But in line at the bank? Things were different. “I don’t see myself a victim,” she said. “[Jessica] doesn’t see herself as a victim. But it’s how you’re read.”
“I also feel like the word ‘victim’ — I feel like it has bothered me,” Williams replied. “When I talk about feminism, sometimes I feel like being a black woman is cast aside. I always feel like I’m warring with my womanhood and wanting the world to be better, and with my blackness — which is the opposite of whiteness.”
In case you were wondering.
Cora, who had been in the kitchen cooking lamb stew and halibut, wandered over to share that she grew up gay in Mississippi, where she was sexually abused from age 6.
Thanks for sharing.
No matter an individual’s experience, she said, she just wished all women would have one another’s backs.
And maybe more than just backs, but you have to start somewhere.
It was a somewhat of an abrupt turn, and “Transparent” creator [Jill] Soloway returned to Williams to ask her to continue speaking.
“With intersectional feminism, it’s our responsibility as white women to recognize that when there are people of color or people who are queer — we need to prioritize your voices and let you speak the loudest and learn from your experience, because we haven’t been listening. So please, Jessica, finish your thoughts.”
You know, Jill, maybe Jessica Williams was starting to realize that while nice, she isn’t quite in Salma Hayek’s league and would rather you change the subject to something like having Elle Fanning give her opinion on Shirley MacClaine’s most awesome past life.
Williams, visibly uncomfortable, said she also wanted to encourage all of the women in the room to pay special attention to women of color and LGBT women.
In other words, I’m definitely better looking than most LGBT women, but can we get off the subject of me vs. Salma Hayek, please?
“I think we need to not speak over black women,” she said, “not assign them labels.”
It’s nothing personal, Jessica, it’s just racial.
“What does this mean, ‘speak over?’” Hayek asked.
Oh boy, Jessica, you shouldn’t have provoked the alpha uber-female.
“To project your ideas on me,” Williams said. “I think there is a fear that if we present an idea that, ‘Hey, maybe [black women] have it a little bit harder in this country’ — because we do; black women and trans women do — if we’re having it a little bit harder, it doesn’t invalidate your experience. I really am begging you to not take it personally.” …
Lots of luck with that … The more actresses you gather together the more rapidly the chance of things being taken personally approaches infinity.
“So when you say women of color,” Hayek began. Then she noticed that Williams was not making eye contact with her. “Jessica, do you mind if I look at your eyes?”
Salma discovered at about age 13 that the only way interpersonal exchanges didn’t go in her favor is if the other person didn’t look at her. For example, it’s harder for Salma to get her way with blind people than with deaf people.
Williams barely looked up.
This is like Donald Trump meets Stuart Smalley.
Still, the back-and-forth continued, with Hayek questioning whether or not she was considered a woman of color in Williams’ estimation.
The Flight From White.
Nearly everyone in the room responded that Hayek was.
Who would dare insult Salma Hayek by saying she is white?
Granted, Salma is a Conquistador-American on her mother’s side and a Crusader-American on her father’s side. In 2017, that ancestry makes her a Woman of Color.
Next week, I’d like to see Salma Hayek, Cameron Diaz, Sofia Vergara, and Alicia Machado debate who is more Woman of Colorish.
“Wouldn’t it solve it if women just all had each other’s backs in general?” Cora [the lesbian chef] asked suddenly.
The solution, obviously, is for hot women to stop competing for the attention of the enemy, men, and have each other’s backs, like with my famously relaxing back massages. I’m an expert chef so you know, Salma and/or Jessica, I have really good hands. And if that doesn’t fully relieve the stress …
“Sure,” Peirce said. “The thing is this, yes, all women can work together, but we have to acknowledge that black women have a different experience. She’s here struggling and we keep shutting her down.”
“I don’t think anybody here shut her down,” Cora said, fighting back.
“Can I interrupt, because I feel misunderstood,” Hayek agreed.
I’m not sure I’d call that agreeing, but it’s best not to disagree with Salma if you know what’s good for you.
“It’s not shutting you up. I feel misunderstood on one point: We should be also curious about our brain.
Tell Salma you are curious about her 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,” she went on, addressing Williams.
After all, who has ever heard of a Mexican Arab getting ahead in this world?
“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.
Parts of me are less than 50 years old, but, overall, I’m 50.
“So I understand.”
“You don’t understand,” Williams said, shaking her head quietly.
To be fair, almost everybody sounds like an incoherent idiot when reporters publish verbatim conversations. It would have to be a conversation between, say, Steven Pinker and Charles Murray to look impressive on paper when unpolished by the reporter.
For example, when I was captain of the Rice U. College Bowl quiz team, the Houston Chronicle published a front page article ostensibly on the subject of what geniuses we were. But the reporter published quotes from me verbatim, which made me sound like a dope. I was a little mad at the time, but it mostly struck me as adding an extra layer of entertainment — Quiz Kid Talks Like Bozo –to the article, and thus was funny while being fair enough: I really did say exactly what the newspaper said I said.
Hayek was born Salma Hayek Jiménez in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Mexico. Her younger brother, Sami (born 1972), is a furniture designer. Her mother, Diana Jiménez Medina, is an opera singer and talent scout. Her father, Sami Hayek, is an oil company executive and owner of an industrial-equipment firm, who once ran for mayor of Coatzacoalcos. Her father is of Lebanese descent, with his family being from the city Baabdat, Lebanon, a city Salma and her father visited in 2015 to promote her movie Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. Her mother is Mexican, with her grandmother/maternal great-grandparents being from Spain. Raised in a wealthy, devout Roman Catholic family, she was sent to the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Grand Coteau, Louisiana, USA, at the age of twelve. …
On March 9, 2007, Hayek confirmed her engagement to French billionaire and Kering CEO, François-Henri Pinault, as well as her pregnancy. She gave birth to daughter, Valentina Paloma Pinault, in September 2007 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. They were married on Valentine’s Day 2009 in Paris.