From Dusk Till Dawn To Eternity
At 53, Salma Hayek is not only stunningly beautiful, but also tremendously successful, in both her career and her personal life. She chooses not only to act, but to also expand her boundaries and accomplish more in every area of her life. Through her philanthropic work and her additional duties as producer and director, Hayek has made more than a name for herself—she’s cemented herself as an inspirational icon.
“Dream big.” We often hear this phrase throughout our life, but it starts when we’re young. We all aspire to live up to our dreams, but perhaps no one has dreamed bigger than Salma Hayek. Growing up in the oil boomtown of Coatzacoalcos, Mexico, Hayek was raised by two well-off parents. Her mother was an opera singer and her father, an oil executive. As a young girl, Hayek would lean on a pink window in her home and stare out at the clouds, dreaming of what her future would look like. “My dream was to be the president of Mexico and change all the systems to help the people and make Mexico the best country in the world,” Salma shared.
She certainly had the intelligence to do so—Hayek graduated high school early at 15, and by 16, was accepted into one of the most prestigious universities in Mexico: Universidad Iberoamericana. She studied international relations and political science there and was doing exceedingly well in her courses, but discovered that her passion lied elsewhere. At around 19, she dropped out of college to pursue acting.
Success in the acting world came quite swiftly for Hayek, whose good looks and smarts helped her win over casting directors. She received a few small parts until finally landing the lead on a popular telenovela called Teresa in 1989. The show made her famous in her home country; according to Hayek, about “60% of the people that were watching television” were tuning into Teresa every night.
Always one to dream bigger, Hayek wasn’t yet satisfied. She wanted to star on the big screen—cinema is what caused her to pursue acting after all—and movies weren’t really being made in Mexico at the time. Without a second thought, she moved to Los Angeles in 1991 to pursue her movie-making dreams. However, it wasn’t as easy as it had been for her in Mexico to land roles. She struggled with the racism and sexism of the Hollywood industry, unable to land any truly notable roles for years. Unfortunately, her accent and imperfect English delayed her, with one studio head telling her, “You could have been the biggest star in America, but you were born in the wrong country. You can never be a leading lady, because we can’t take the risk of you opening your mouth and people thinking of their maids.”
Despite the pushback, Salma was able to land her first impactful role in 1995’s Desperado alongside Antonio Banderas. She quickly followed up the film with her iconic part in 1996’s From Dusk Till Dawn, where she performs a seductive dance with a snake. Hayek had discovered the secret to combatting Hollywood’s racism:
“I battled racism by using their sexism…I invented this sexy character. That was what [Hollywood] was able to open up to, that’s how I went in. I remember making a choice, ‘Am I degrading myself ?’ In their head, the audience is attracted, and with this [version of ] me on the screen, they could forgive the accent. So, I said, ‘OK I can do that.’”
And so, Salma persisted as she was continuously cast in the “sexy” archetypal role. In 1999’s Dogma, she starred as an innocent-looking stripper, and in western comedy Wild Wild West (also 1999) she played a scantily-clad girl who is rescued by Will Smith and Kevin Kline’s characters.
Instead of complacently moving along with this unfair casting, Hayek decided to stand up and make a change in 1999. She founded her own production company, Ventanarosa or “pink window,” named after her childhood home’s window that she would so often dream out of. The focus of the company was to provide more roles and opportunities for female actors and Latinas, both underrepresented groups in Hollywood.
Her big break with the company came in 2002 as she produced and starred as the lead role in the biopic, Frida, which explores the life and legacy of famous Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. The film was immensely fruitful—Hayek’s greatest success—as she managed to garner her first Oscar, Golden Globe, and BAFTA nominations for “Best Actress.” With her Oscar nomination, she became the first Latina to ever be nominated in that category. After Frida, even more accolades followed for the budding Mexican actress. She directed and executive-produced the 2003 drama The Maldonado Miracle, which earned her an Emmy for “Outstanding Directing in a Children/Youth/Family Special.” The film itself was also nominated for four other separate Emmys. Then in 2006, through Ventananrosa, Hayek executive-produced the popular TV show Ugly Betty, which went on to win two Golden Globes.
Also in 2006 came grand changes in Hayek’s personal life. She began to date French billionaire entrepreneur François-Henri Pinault, who is the chairman and CEO of Kering—the international luxury group known for its brands Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, and others. Unlike other famous celebrity couples, Hayek and Pinault are still together today. They had a daughter named Valentina in 2007, and got married on Valentine’s Day in 2009.
In 2014, Hayek surged on into different territory by producing and lending her voice to character Kamila in The Prophet. The movie is an animated adaptation of famed writer and illustrator Kahlil Gibran’s book of the same name and is “about the courage to speak up, to believe you are worth being listened to,” according to Hayek. She emphasizes that this message is especially necessary for women to hear, hence why she decided to present the U.K. premiere on International Women’s Day.
It’s no secret that Salma is a badass influential feminist who advocates for women’s rights. She has long been associated with helping survivors of domestic violence and has never held her tongue when it comes to standing up for women.
“The amount of pressure on women now, it’s crazy. You have to be much better than your male colleagues, just so you can maybe try and get the same salary as them. And you still have to be a good wife and mother. And now you also have to be skinny, and you have to look 20 when you’re 40. It’s too much. We need to stop with the crazy expectations, give ourselves a break,” Salma said.
When the explosive #MeToo movement took over back in 2017, Salma was right there to share her stories and stand alongside the tons of women who had dared to speak out against their perpetrators. She too had been a victim of infamous film mogul Harvey Weinstein. In a heartbreaking op-ed for The New York Times, Hayek shared the sexual harassment she had to endure while filming Frida. Miramax, the former entertainment company Harvey Weinstein owned, was behind the film, which added unforeseen trauma to Salma’s experience on set. According to Hayek, Weinstein attempted to get her to comply with several inappropriate and forceful sexual advances, including showering with him, letting him give her oral sex, and getting naked with another woman in front of him. When she refused to agree, Weinstein responded with rage, causing the production of the film to grow increasingly difficult. He forced her to jump through nearly impossible hurdles because if she didn’t, he threatened, he would drop out of the film and Frida would not get made. Salma completed the tasks, which involved things like securing A-list actors for minor roles, retrieving a rewrite of the script, and raising $10 million to finance the film. In the end, she won, as Frida hit the theaters to wondrous acclaim and honor.
“…I went to war and I won. But why do so many of us, as female artists, have to go to war to tell our stories when we have so much to offer? Why do we have to fight tooth and nail to maintain our dignity?” Salma asks in the op-ed.
In an industry that has made it historically challenging for women and Latinos to succeed, Salma Hayek is a true victor. Using her wits, smarts, and charm to ascend the ladder, she has gracefully been able to defy all odds and break through the glass ceiling. Now an established name in the world of cinema, she no longer has to “fight tooth and nail” for non-degrading roles— she is a shining star in her own right.
Catch up with Hayek’s latest films, several of which will premiere this year! This month on January 10th, watch her star in comedy Like a Boss alongside Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne. Then expect to see her in Molly, a drama that follows the chaotic life of a father and daughter; The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, a sequel to the 2017 The Hitman’s Bodyguard in which she also starred; Bliss, a sci-fi picture about a recently-divorced man who falls for a woman’s theory that they live in a simulation; and Eternals, an action flick about a race of immortal beings who lived on Earth, also starring Angelina Jolie.
By Selene Rivera