Salma Hayek discusses her Lebanese heritage, political correctness

Salma Hayek discusses her Lebanese heritage, political correctness
Salma Hayek is an actress, producer, philanthropist, and all-around global superstar. (Getty)
Short Url
Updated 11 November 2021

Salma Hayek discusses her Lebanese heritage, political correctness

Salma Hayek discusses her Lebanese heritage, political correctness
  • ‘I probably had kibbeh before I had tacos,’ said the actress 

DUBAI: Ever since she was a little girl, Salma Hayek — actress, producer, philanthropist, and all-around global superstar — has felt a strong connection to her Arab roots. Though she grew up in Mexico, far from the small village of Baabdat, Lebanon, which her family left years earlier, her father and grandparents never let her forget where they came from, and the values that entails.

“I was raised and I was educated, like all Lebanese people are educated, to give back to Lebanon, to be a brotherhood. We are raised so that when we encounter a Lebanese person in life, we immediately come together,” says Hayek.

In her house growing up, she was raised on Arabic food, handed the writings of Khalil Gibran by her grandfather, and taught about what her Arab identity meant.




Salma Hayek with husband Francois-Henri Pinault and their daughter Valentina Paloma Pinault in France. (Getty)

“I probably had Kibbeh before I had tacos,” she jokes.

Her background was diverse, and she embraced the richness of what that meant, both in her Latin roots and her Middle Eastern ones, even as she moved to the US from Mexico to pursue a career in entertainment, eventually becoming a naturalized citizen. As much as the richness of her heritage made her who she was, that identity led her down a hard road in a town such as Hollywood, a town in which the faces that were most easily embraced were the ones that conformed 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.




In her house growing up, she was raised on Arabic food, handed the writings of Khalil Gibran by her grandfather, and taught about what her Arab identity meant. (Supplied)

She has persevered, however, and made a significant contribution to a wider acceptance not only of ethnic diversity, but of women in roles traditionally held by men in the industry. Take her 2015 passion project “The Prophet,” an animation based on the famous work by Gibran that Hayek produced (as well as voicing 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.




Hayek at the premiere of the latest Marvel movie with director Chloe Zhao and producer Victoria Alonso. (Supplied)

As much as ‘diversity’ has become the buzzword in the new Hollywood, and as much as every studio pushes for diverse hires both in front of and behind the camera, this is something that Hayek remains skeptical of. Why? Because often, she feels, these sorts of 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,” says Hayek.

Her latest film does not fall into that category, she stresses. It is her first venture into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and she has become the MCU’s first Arab lead.




Hayek with the Gibran statue. (Supplied)

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 one from this country, one from that,’” says Hayek.

Hayek had never been in a superhero movie before — and she’s happy about that. If she had, she says, she probably would have never been cast in this one, as the leader of a group of ancient heroes from another galaxy. For her, having a cast that represents people of so many different backgrounds in such a film is a big moment not only for her, but for Hollywood at large. The message of the film, she says, is that “we can all be superheroes.”

“Before, I was one of those people who, every time something appeared on screen, larger than life, were never included. I’m so happy that they didn’t call me before. Thank you very much. There’s some really bad ones, by the way; this was worth waiting for,” says Hayek. “It’s like my husband (French business mogul Francois-Henri Pinault). I waited a long time, and I got a good one.”

When she first spoke about the film with Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige and Zhao, she was surprised to hear that the reason that they wanted to cast her as the leader of the group was for the personal qualities she embodied, above all else.

“I thought I was going to play someone’s mother, frankly. But Chloe said, ‘You’re actually going to be the leader. In the comic books, it’s a man, but we wanted you, so we changed it to a woman.’ You can imagine my shock, right? I thought it was a prank. I asked, ‘Why did you want me?’ She said, ‘The quality I see for this leader is in you. You have a type of strength that I want for this character. You are extremely strong, but there’s a warmth to your strength.’ (The character has a) motherly instinct. And I really liked that. She’s a healer, and if you think about it, the best leaders in the world should be healers. They are followed by the people, and they should heal their pains and their problems, and they should fix what’s broken,” says Hayek.

Because they understood each other so well, Hayek and Zhao’s immediate bond from that first meeting continued throughout filming, lasting until today.

“She’s such a good director. Because of that, there was no preparation required from me, there was just, like, presence, and trust in the director,” says Hayek.

That welcoming spirit continued throughout filming, and as a result, the cast bonded in a way that Hayek hadn’t seen in years.

“We all interacted a lot in the moments when you’re waiting in between takes. That doesn’t really happen anymore. Before it did; actors used to talk about the characters all the time and read lines together and have fights about the meaning of the scene, but now everybody’s on their phone. They’ll come out of the trailers when it’s time to roll. Here, that didn’t happen,” says Hayek.

What was important to Hayek as well is that it wasn’t just her Arab and Mexican identity, or her identity as a strong woman, that was embraced on set. She felt she could wear all aspects of herself proudly.

“I’m a 55-year-old, so that’s a different kind of diversity,” says Hayek, alluding to the fact that older woman rarely get cast as anything other than mothers and grandmothers after their 30s.

She was also able to be comfortable with her dyslexia, she explains. “During our first table read, I had to read it off the paper. I thought I was going to stink, but I knew I could do it alright by the end. And Barry Keoghan (who plays Druig) is dyslexic too. It was nice that we could all sit there and hold hands and be heroes, even then. We all just got to be a family — a proper family — and embrace everything about each other,” says Hayek.

More than anyone else, Hayek has Zhao to thank for that.

“It was very clear from day one, 10 seconds in, that this was different. She’s a brave, strong woman with a lot of clarity and she kept that consistently throughout the film. The way she moved the camera, the smoothness, the curvature, the epic moments that found intimacy at the same time. It was a very clear, specific vision,” says Hayek. “It was a beautiful experience.”


Saudi style star Tamara Al-Gabbani on how to stand out at Paris Fashion Week

Saudi style star Tamara Al-Gabbani on how to stand out at Paris Fashion Week
Updated 06 October 2022

Saudi style star Tamara Al-Gabbani on how to stand out at Paris Fashion Week

Saudi style star Tamara Al-Gabbani on how to stand out at Paris Fashion Week
  • Influencer collaborated with Net-a-Porter for many looks during fashion week season
  • Al-Gabbani pulled off number of fashion-forward ensembles with help of stylist Wafa Nasser

DUBAI: Saudi designer and fashion influencer Tamara Al-Gabbani is back from her “manic and exhilarating” Paris Fashion Week trip and it was one for the books, she told Arab News.

“It’s like that feeling you get after doing CrossFit for 10 days and you can’t feel your legs anymore,” she said.

Tamara Al-Gabbani at Paris Fashion Week. (Supplied)

She attributed part of the intense nature of the trip to having her stylist and assistant both miss the trip for various reasons.

“The main challenge was definitely that I didn’t have my stylist and assistant with me. Unpacking alone took me six hours. The second challenge was that we didn’t predict that the weather would be cold and rainy. We didn’t really prepare for that,” she added.

Tamara Al-Gabbani wearing Saint Laurent in Paris. (Supplied)

What followed was an intense shopping exercise in Paris, while Al-Gabbani had her stylist Wafa Nasser go over all the choices with her on the phone.

“She was on the phone with me the whole time and we were selecting all the boots and everything we needed because of the change of weather conditions. And we were re-creating looks while I was in Paris and shopping right before the shoot, which was in a few hours and we had to do all this last minute over the phone,” Al-Gabbani said.

But even before she arrived in Paris, Al-Gabbani had her work cut out for her. Behind the glitz and the glamor of an influencer’s life is steady teamwork, rigorous attention to detail, and a lot of preparation.

“My stylist and I began our prep three weeks in advance. But because she was in Riyadh and I was in Dubai and then at New York Fashion week, we had to work virtually to put all my looks together. We worked online for five days straight to decide on all the looks. And this time, we collaborated with Net-a-Porter for most of the looks,” she added.

On her favorite styles from her Paris trip, Al-Gabbani picked out her Saint Laurent and Coperni outfits. The Coperni ensemble combined a yellow twisted cutout cady blazer with an eye-catching mint-green crochet skirt, all perfectly brought together with season-favorite Barbie pink Bottega Veneta heels.

The Saint Laurent look featured a more masculine silhouette with a single-breasted tailored blazer dress in denim. Al-Gabbani paired this with thigh-high white boots and chunky gold hoops.

From the various shows she attended, Al-Gabbani said the Monot and Etam fashion shows stood out.

“And this time, I actually had time to eat. I know that sounds weird, but this is the first fashion week I actually went to lunch,” she added.


Behind the scenes of ‘The Woman King’ with Hollywood superstar Viola Davis

Behind the scenes of ‘The Woman King’ with Hollywood superstar Viola Davis
Oscar, Emmy and Tony-winning actress Viola Davis stars in ‘The Woman King.’ (AFP)
Updated 06 October 2022

Behind the scenes of ‘The Woman King’ with Hollywood superstar Viola Davis

Behind the scenes of ‘The Woman King’ with Hollywood superstar Viola Davis
  • Director Gina Prince-Bythewood, Viola Davis and other stars discuss their groundbreaking historical epic
  • The film is set to be released in Gulf cinemas on Oct. 6

DUBAI: In the 26 years since she debuted on the screen, 57-year-old American actress Viola Davis has become the only Black American to win the Triple Crown of acting — an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony, had her star included on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and has even been named by the New York Times as one of the top 10 actors of the century. Never, though, has she been prouder of a film than she is of “The Woman King.”

“For the first time in my career, I had agency — agency to be able to control the narrative for myself, to have a character that reflected me,” Davis tells Arab News. “It’s a story in which I don’t have to make my blackness disappear in order to make the role work. It meant freedom — that’s what it’s meant.” 

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball,” “The Secret Life of Bees”), “The Woman King” is the sort of film that many have called for for decades — a historical epic in the style of “Braveheart” or “Gladiator” that centers on the story of African leaders. It is set in the real-life West African kingdom of Dahomey in 1823 and focuses on General Nanisca (Davis), the woman who would become Dahomey’s ‘king.’ 

For Bythewood, it’s the film she had been dreaming of making all her career. “‘Braveheart’ is one of my favorite movies, and I’ve always wanted to make our ‘Braveheart.’ So when the script came, I thought this might be the chance to do it,” says Bythewood.

Julius Tennon and Viola Davis attend a special screening of ‘The Woman King’ at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. (AFP)

Getting it made, however, was anything but easy. Davis and her husband, Julius Tennon, fought for seven years, with Bythewood coming in during the last year to help assemble a cast that was worthy of such an ambitious project. 

“To get from that desire to a green light is a lot. It’s a lot of fight. It’s a lot of moving parts. It’s a lot of casting. But I feel like it just happened at the right time. And certainly, I feel like all my work up until this point got me to a position to be able to do this story and tell it the right way,” Bythewood says.

Viola Davis and John Boyega in ‘The Woman King.’ (Supplied)

The team assembled an all-star cast of up-and-coming talent, including Lashana Lynch (“Doctor Strange 2,” “No Time to Die”), John Boyega (the “Star Wars” sequel trilogy), and Thuso Mbedu (“The Underground Railroad”), each of whom took on different historical figures that showed the complicated nature of 19th-century Africa, in which prominent West African kingdoms worked with European slavers to sell those they defeated in battle, a practice they later rejected. 

“I really had to learn about this history, and once I did I had a responsibility in portraying this man to not shy away from his conflicts, especially the conflicts that are quite negative,” Boyega says. “I had to be open to the reality of the wrong, for the sake of good portrayal.”

Viola Davis in ‘The Woman King.’ (Supplied)

At the center of it all is Davis herself, giving perhaps the best performance of her career. 

“This movie wouldn’t have gotten made without Viola. No one else can be Nanisca, and she’s everything she is off the screen as she is on the screen. She’s so powerful,” says Bythewood.

“She wants collaboration, and we had a great time building this character. She wasn’t familiar with fighting and stunts because she hadn’t done it before, but I have, so I brought my athlete mentality to her and let her know what it really feels like to be in a ring, to hit or be hit, to swing a weapon. Once we had that, we could really build her from there, and once we had Viola’s performance, we had our key ingredient,” Bythewood continues.

For Lynch, this was not just about telling the story of an African kingdom — it was the story of a Black woman-led society, one that has never been explored on screen before, and she and the crew felt a huge responsibility to do it correctly.

“For these women, this is the first time that we’re telling their story. We have to do right by them. These are our ancestors. These women are the reason why we are here on this earth,” says Lynch.


Lisbon museum showcases Arab influence on Portuguese cultural heritage

Lisbon museum showcases Arab influence on Portuguese cultural heritage
Updated 06 October 2022

Lisbon museum showcases Arab influence on Portuguese cultural heritage

Lisbon museum showcases Arab influence on Portuguese cultural heritage

MARBELLAA: One striking aspect of the Portuguese language is its historical link with the Arabic tongue. Along the country’s southern coast, for instance, one encounters small towns with names such as Almancil (meaning ‘the house’ in Arabic) in a region called Algarve, derived from ‘Al-gharb’ or ‘the West.’ In the 8th century, Moors from North Africa occupied Portugal for nearly 500 years, leaving a lasting effect on its culture. 

That effect is clearly seen in the ceramic square tiles that pepper the streets of Lisbon. Tiles are locally known as ‘azulejos’ and to understand their history, a visit to the capital’s National Azulejo Museum, which opened in the 1960s is a must. It is housed in a former convent that was founded by Queen Eleanor of Viseu in the 1500s. 

Home to more than 50,000 azulejos, the museum hosts a massive panel showing a panoramic view of ancient Lisbon; a gilded church; and a chapel studded with blue-and-white tiles, surprising visitors with its architectural splendor and diversity. 

“When people come to the museum, the reactions are very good,” the museum’s director, Alexandre Pais, told Arab News. “They don’t know what to expect and we are trying to make each area different, to create a variety of experiences.”

The term ‘azulejo’ comes from the Arabic word ‘zellig,’ a patterned type of mosaic tile work found in North Africa and Andalusia, Spain. “It started with the Arabs,” explained Pais. “We received azulejos in the beginning from Andalusia. The Arab heritage in Portuguese azulejos can be seen today in several aspects, including technique. For instance, we have the tradition of cutting the azulejos, which is very Arabic in terms of work.” 

Originally depicting scenes from the bible, mythology and everyday life, azulejos — which were also influenced by Dutch and Chinese porcelain — were a status symbol and reserved for private spaces, such as churches. They were only externalized to the facades of buildings by the bourgeoisie in the mid-19th century, becoming a national symbol. 

“The city became like a theatrical set,” said Pais. “Azulejos have a story of more than 500 years and it’s always changing. . . If you look at azulejos, you can understand the Portuguese, not just as a society but part of our soul — what it means to be Portuguese.”


Lebanese British actress Razane Jammal unveiled as Dior’s Middle East ambassador

Lebanese British actress Razane Jammal unveiled as Dior’s Middle East ambassador
Razane Jammal most recently starred in blockbuster Netflix series “The Sandman.” (AFP)
Updated 05 October 2022

Lebanese British actress Razane Jammal unveiled as Dior’s Middle East ambassador

Lebanese British actress Razane Jammal unveiled as Dior’s Middle East ambassador

DUBAI: Lebanese British actress Razane Jammal has been unveiled as the Middle East’s brand ambassador for French luxury label Dior.

“I’m so unbelievably excited to finally announce that I will be joining Dior as a brand ambassador in the Middle East!” Jammal posted on Instagram on Wednesday.

“Ever since I joined the fashion community, I wanted to collaborate with people I can truly grow with, to join a family that I value as much as it values me. It’s been a long journey but I can confidently say I’ve found my home! The ME Dior team you have been so incredible. An extra special thank you to @sandrasawaya for believing in me and making this happen. This is the start of a wonderful collaboration. I cannot wait to embody the timeless creations of @mariagraziachiuri,” she added, referring to Dior’s creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri and the Head of PR & Communications Middle East for Christian Dior Couture Sandra Sawaya Nehme.

Jammal most recently starred in blockbuster Netflix series “The Sandman,” based on the legendary graphic novels written by award-winning British author Neil Gaiman.


How time flies at Riyadh ‘nostalgia’ exhibition

How time flies at Riyadh ‘nostalgia’ exhibition
Updated 05 October 2022

How time flies at Riyadh ‘nostalgia’ exhibition

How time flies at Riyadh ‘nostalgia’ exhibition
  • Misk Art Institute’s ‘Tales of Nostalgia’ opened at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Fine Arts Hall on Oct. 2 to showcase conceptual artworks by creators from Europe and the Middle East
  • ‘Cold Flux’ by London-based Ben Cullen Williams, explores the effects of global warming on the Larsen-B ice shelf, which splintered and almost entirely collapsed 20 years ago

RIYADH: A Riyadh art gallery has opened an exhibition exploring time, the mind and the changing world through installations by a dozen local and international artists.

Misk Art Institute’s “Tales of Nostalgia” opened at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Fine Arts Hall on Oct. 2 to showcase conceptual artworks by creators from Europe and the Middle East.

“Cold Flux” by London-based Ben Cullen Williams, explores the effects of global warming on the Larsen-B ice shelf, which splintered and almost entirely collapsed 20 years ago. The artist’s installation uses video taken during his own trip to Antarctica, and comparisons with later satellite imagery. 

His footage was passed through an AI algorithm that distorts and morphs the images as the shelf changes and disappears over time.

“I thought it’d be interesting to kind of potentially rebuild these landscapes through the use of technology, a thing that kind of destroyed it,” Williams told Arab News. “Fundamentally, it talks about our changing planet, how our planet is constantly moving and morphing. But it also kind of brings the question, is technology the solution to our current problems?”

“Novae”, an audio-visuel work by the French art collective Lab212, uses a recreated star field to explore the constellations and the history of astronomy, while sounds of nature and a poem by Prince Badr bin Abdulmohsen, “Khouf wa Sikat,” plays.

Saudi artist Abeer Sultan’s work, “An Imagined Perpetual Past” focuses on Medini marital traditions, and the bride’s anonymity and the extravagance of her clothing.

Daniah Alsaleh’s “Rewind, Play, Glitch” explores nostalgia and the distortion of memory by time through the use of digital photos on a living room wall that change and morph.

The MAI also exhibits various works from artists Muhannad Shono, Ayman Zedani, Asma Belhamar, Sultan bin Fahad, Zimoun, Fuse, Katie Paterson, and Laurent Grasso.

Nawaf Al-Harbi, MAI’s acting strategy & development director, told Arab News that he hoped the exhibition could also be used as a platform for cultural exchange opportunities.

“The aim is to continue the conversations, to get artists, especially the international ones, to run some workshops and master classes, so it's also part of the connection,” 

The exhibition runs until January 15, and is open to the public from 4 pm to 10 pm.