Actress, producer, philanthropist, and all-around global superstar Salma Hayek has a deep-rooted connection to her Arab heritage.
Despite growing up in Mexico, her father and grandparents instilled in her a strong sense of Lebanese identity, teaching her the importance of giving back to Lebanon and the values of brotherhood.
Hayek was raised on Arabic food, exposed to the writings of Khalil Gibran by her grandfather, and educated about her Arab identity.
“I probably had Kibbeh before I had tacos,” she jokes.
Hayek’s diverse background has been an integral part of her identity, even as she moved to the US from Mexico to pursue a career in entertainment and eventually become a naturalized citizen.
Hollywood, however, presented a difficult road for Hayek as a Mexican-Arab actress, with the industry often favoring faces that conform to a different standard.
“You have to understand, I am Mexican-Arab in America. It’s a tough one. I’m not British. I’m not Spanish. I’m Mexican-Arab,” she tells Arab News.
Despite the challenges, Hayek has persevered and has made significant contributions to the acceptance of ethnic diversity and women in traditionally male-dominated roles in the entertainment industry.
One notable example of this is her 2015 passion project, “The Prophet”, an animation based on the famous work by Gibran that Hayek produced and voiced one of the characters.
“It’s not a religious book, it’s poetic and philosophical. It’s a book written by an Arabic man, which unites all religions,” Hayek told the Guardian of the film. “That itself I think is important.”
“Through this book I got to know my grandfather, through this book I got to have my grandfather teaching me about life,” she told Reuters at the film’s premiere in Beirut. “For me, this is a love letter to my heritage.
Between all the connections of our ancestors and the memories of the ones that are no longer with us, I hope they are proud of this film, because I did it also for them.”
Hayek’s father went to Beirut with her for the premiere, and together they went on an “emotional journey” to Baabdat — their ancestral village.
Despite the growing emphasis on diversity in Hollywood, Hayek remains skeptical of the industry’s efforts to increase diversity, often feeling that these moves are made to fill quotas without substance, which don’t represent real change.
“When diversity is done out of political correctness, you feel an interrogation and you don’t feel welcome the same way [as you do when it’s done right].”
“They’re nervous and speak carefully just so that they don’t make a mistake in anything they say. They’re not seeing you as a human being and celebrating just who you are.”
Hayek’s latest film, however, does not fall into this category. It is her first venture into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and she has become the MCU’s first Arab lead.
Hayek was particularly excited about the fact that director Chloe Zhao, who won Oscars earlier this year for Best Director and Best Picture for her film “Nomadland,” approached her not to fill a quota, but out of something deeper.
“It’s diversity, but it’s not done out of political correctness, but out of conviction. It didn’t feel contrived and forced.”
“It’s not like, ‘I need to have a person of color so that I can check a box.’ It’s about understanding that the world is diverse, and that diversity is something to be celebrated and embraced.”
Hayek’s latest film is a prime example of this, as it not only features an Arab lead, but also showcases a diverse cast and crew, with representation from different cultures and backgrounds.
The film is a testament to Hayek’s belief that true diversity is not just about filling quotas, but about understanding and celebrating the world’s diversity in all its forms.
Hayek’s role in this film is not only significant for her as an Arab actress, but also for the industry as a whole.
Her presence in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a step forward for representation and inclusivity in Hollywood, and it is a role that she takes on with pride and responsibility.
“I am honored to be the first Arab lead in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I hope that it opens the door for more representation and inclusivity in the future,” Hayek says.
Hayek’s journey as an actress and producer has not been easy, but it is one that she has embraced fully.
Her Lebanese heritage has played a significant role in her life and career, and she continues to use her platform to promote understanding and acceptance of diversity in all its forms.
Hayek’s story is an inspiration for the many who come from different backgrounds and cultures.
Her hard work, perseverance, and determination to succeed in a town like Hollywood, despite the challenges she faced, is a reminder that anyone can achieve their dreams if they stay true to themselves and their heritage.