Between September 15 and October of the same day, Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated. The month is assigned to take the time to recognize the Latino/e and Hispanic contributions in the country. The Latin community fights hard for its place. And it is impossible to honor a heritage without acknowledging the courage, pain, and blood that entails for its people and culture to belong to a society that tends to alienate them.
As minorities rise, many films are being created to represent a community in a better light. These films often focus on destroying damaging stereotypes and highlight more of truth than the idea of it. The new productions constantly attempt to push the boundaries from how it has been done before. A film that was way ahead of its time, representing Mexican rich culture in Hollywood in a way that had not been before, was the Academy Award-nominated film ‘Frida.’ Starring Salma Hayek, with known co-stars like Antonio Banderas, Edward Norton, and Ashley Judd. The film was directed by Julie Taymor.
The Real Frida Kahlo
Based on the life of Mexican surrealist artist, painter, and activist Frida Kahlo. ‘Frida’ expands on pain and resilience, focusing on the suffering the artist endured throughout her life. The film depicts Frida Kahlo’s journey from a naive and high-spirited young teenager to a woman who learned to unapologetically be herself in a time when women were not allowed to be. The film beautifully tells the story through Frida’s paintings. Rightfully, the film’s creators chose the only perfect way to tell the artist’s story, as all Frida Kahlo’s pieces are autobiographical. Frida Kahlo’s work often encapsulates a time when she struggled or demonstrated moments of change in her life. Frida was also a victim of health issues; she suffered tragedies and medical emergencies. Because of this, most of her paintings depict her in a state of pain wearing back braces. When Frida Kahlo was eighteen, she broke her spine and could not walk for three months.
Rich In Culture, Poor In Health
The incorporation of Frida’s paintings gave the film an unexpected structure. In my opinion, to understand Frida Kahlo’s material, you need a sense of maturity. Frida Kahlo’s surrealism and magical realism can exhale an eerie and curious sentiment, and without the maturity, the pieces might look unfinished or just like the drawings inside a child’s brain. Frida’s work is rich in Mexican culture, and the passion behind her pain pops without a doubt. In a way, Frida Kahlo feels like a Mexican painter version of Sylvia Plath, whose gut-wrenching poems make you run out of breath. Frida Kahlo was unique, a hero who lived in the courage to shove anyone’s judgment into the trash. Frida Kahlo lived in the ambiguity between what womanhood meant and what she believed a woman should be.
The Woman, The Icon
When Frida Kahlo was alive (Frida died in the summer of 1954), she had her fair share of success, but nothing really compared to the number of admirers that surfaced towards her and her work after the 1970s. The story goes that Frida Kahlo was rediscovered by art historians in the late sixties, early seventies. Many activists found that her work spoke for their causes and ideals. As a bisexual woman living in an era where men were the leading figures, she made them wake up and realize the truth of a woman’s experience. Since then, Frida Kahlo has become an icon for the LGBTQ+ community and the feminist movement and has undoubtedly given the Mexican community bragging rights.
And Then Came Salma
It is no surprise then that many artists admire her work, especially those of Latin American descent. When Salma Hayek found Frida Kahlo’s work at fourteen, Salma knew that someday she wanted to tell her story.
In the mid-90s, Salma Hayek was an up-and-coming star in the U.S. Her background involved several soap operas that had risen her to fame in her home country of Mexico. Salma desired an accomplished crossover in her career and wanted to become a successful movie star. Salma Hayek often recounts the times she was told her dream could never be achieved, as being an actress and not just an actress, but a Mexican movie star, seemed next to impossible. Mexicans at the time could only portray “Hookers and maids,” she was told. Salma Hayek is one that never listened to the naysayers. Not long after she arrived to the U.S., Salma found leading roles in Hollywood productions such as Robert Rodriguez, ‘Desperado‘ and ‘Once Upon a Time In Mexico.’ And began her long search for a place in Hollywood that was going to be the home for her passion project, a film about the life of Frida Kahlo.
Latin Films Not Profitable, They Said… Boy, Were They Wrong
Salma Hayek believed there was only one way to share Frida Kahlo’s story, and that was by staying true to the Mexican culture and incredibly loyal to Frida as a person. Many depictions of a film about Frida Kahlo were being pitched to studios, but often the problem was the same: the studios wanted to cast non-Mexican actors and whitewash the truth behind Frida’s culture. It took eight years for Salma Hayek to make the production happen. Making a film about a Mexican artist was still something many studios did not find profitable, as they believed the Latin American audience to be very “niche.”
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But thanks to the resurfacing of Frida Kahlo’s work, there were at least ten screenplays in circulation, including one where Madonna was being considered for the lead of Frida (I know, don’t even get me started). But none included Salma, and she did not give up on her version of the story; Salma Hayek found the cast for ‘Frida‘ by, as she explains it, “asking for favors from friends.” Sidenote: I would drop dead if Antonio Banderas was just a call away, considering that Antonio and Salma have been friends for years now, she is totally used to it. Salma sold the story so well to her friends that even Edward Norton agreed to help with the re-writes of the film without credit.
Besides working with friends, Salma Hayek struggled to find a production company that believed in her film as much as she did. But when she finally found a place that looked interested, Salma was unaware that she was about to sign a pact with the devil. One of the attached producers for the film was producer Harvey Weinstein. Salma released a personal essay for the NY Times, during the #metoo movement, where she shared her uncomfortable encounters with Weinstein. Salma believed in her film, and although the studio was not as supportive as she would’ve hoped, Salma pushed forward until Frida’s story was completed the right way. Salma Hayek’s goal was to have this film step out of the stereotypes that kept being used in all Latin American people and highlight the cultural richness of the Mexican culture. Promoting the sophistication of its colors, music, and even wardrobes.
Struggle After Struggle
One of the biggest problems other people faced when trying to make the film about Frida Kahlo was getting the rights for the paintings, but Salma was granted the rights. After the film reached post-production, Salma decided to step away for a bit, rather, feeling extremely emotionally drained after the Weinstein ordeal. But when ‘Frida‘ was about to be released, Salma was informed that the film would be released on TV. The studios didn’t find the film deemed to have a worldwide release or even a nationwide release. Salma came to the rescue, convincing the producers to show the movie in a few theaters. When ‘Frida‘ was finally released, the success was not immediate.
Little by little, the film began to become recognizable. Salma said of ‘Frida,’ “it was fun to see how the film had legs on its own, and how it still stands on its own after so many years.” ‘Frida’ surprised its studio heads because the film ended up being nominated for six Academy Awards. One of the nominations went to Salma Hayek as best actress, although she did not win, the film took home two golden statuettes, best original score, and best makeup and hairstyling.
Change Has Been Happening
In a talk show interview, Salma was asked how she found the resilience to push through when harassment and constant belittling were coming from other people in the industry, to which she replied, “I am enamored with the concept of evolution in a positive light. I believe in pushing the limits of human nature in a positive direction. We haven’t seen the best of humanity.”
Move Mountains, Demolished Stereotypes
Perhaps her bright persona and positive attitude towards humanity have open many doors for Salma. Maybe it is the way she embraces her culture without apologies, just like Frida did. Still, I believe ‘Frida‘ to be an exciting and necessary film that helped create a new path for many others who want to stay true to its culture. ‘Frida‘ was a film that moved many mountains and demolished stereotypes, portraying the sophistication and the richness of a culture that had seemed inferior.
‘Frida’ and Salma Hayek need to be celebrated this month as they have contributed significantly to the industry in honor of the Latin community.
By Ana Cobo
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Ana Cobo is a writer for The Hollywood Insider, who keeps up to date with the entertainment world and looks for truth and compassion in her pieces. She enjoys finding depth and understanding behind the creative work on TV shows and films. Sharing the new knowledge found has always been important to her. Ana loves sparking interest and highlighting the talent found in the Latinx community. Like everyone at The Hollywood Insider, Ana believes in uplifting the community, through compassion and understanding.