Mexican actor says highly paid male stars would have to make sacrifices if they were serious about gender equality
Alexandra Topping and agencies
The Cannes film festival is one of the glamorous highlights of the silver screen’s year – a time for sun, stars and self-satisfaction.
But this year, the atmosphere is mutinous. On Sunday the Hollywood actor Salma Hayek became the latest to throw yet another grenade into the simmering gender debate, arguing that male movie stars would have to take pay cuts if they were serious about equal pay for women.
The Mexican-born actor, a leading voice in the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, said highly paid male stars would have to make sacrifices.
“It is not just the producers” who have to change if the huge pay gap is to be closed. “It is actors too,” she said.
“Time’s up. You had a good run, but it is time now to be generous with the actresses,” she told a Women in Motion talk at the festival.
“If actors ask such inflated fees it will leave nothing for actresses. If the movie’s budget is $10m, the [male] actor has to understand that if he is making $9.7m, it is going to be hard for equality,” Hayek added. “Otherwise they will kill the movie.”
With a laugh and the confidence of a woman unlikely to go short of work, she added: “I will be hated for saying this, […] I hope I can get another job.”
Hayek – best known for Desperado and the indie hit Beatriz at Dinner – had accused the movie mogul Harvey Weinstein of threatening to “break my kneecaps” after she spurned his advances on the set of her film Frida.
The actor and producer, who says she has sold a number of female-led projects she had been trying to make for 10 years since the Weinstein scandal shook up Hollywood, said real change was happening.
“The men are terrified. The predators are hiding. You feel this very palpable atmosphere,” she said.
It is not only Hayek who has been speaking out. On Saturday 82 women working in the film industry, including the head judge, Cate Blanchett, Ava DuVernay and Jane Fonda, stood in silence on the red carpet to protest at the festival’s lack of female directors.
The group, which also featured Kristen Stewart, the Wonder Woman director, Patty Jenkins, and Hayek, stopped halfway up the steps of the entrance to the Palais des Festivals to represent women’s curtailed advancement in the film industry.
“We are 82 women, representing the number of female directors who have climbed these stairs since the first edition of the Cannes film festival in 1946. In the same period, 1,688 male directors have climbed these very same stairs,” said Blanchett, reading out a collective statement alongside the veteran documentary-maker Agnès Varda. “The prestigious Palme d’Or has been bestowed upon 71 male directors, too numerous to mention by name, but only two female directors.”
They called on institutions to provide safer working conditions for women, and for governments to uphold equal pay laws.
But women’s voices, long stifled, were suddenly in intense demand, said Hayek. It was currently difficult to hire known female writers and directors in the US, as studios were snapping them up trying to catch up with the public mood, she added, with women “jumping from the writers’ room to being showrunners” on television series.
But she warned that “pay disparity is going to take a while … because they still want to pay you the exploitative salary they paid you before”, which was why women had to be impatient.
“We should have been angrier sooner. We should have come together sooner – that is what did it,” Hayek, who was nominated for an Oscar for Frida, told reporters.
She said Weinstein harassed her on the movie, which she produced, demanding that she do a “gratuitous” nude scene with another female actor. The disgraced mogul contested her claim, with Hayek insisting it was part of a ploy by his lawyers to try to discredit the “women of colour who complained about him”.
She said they had also targeted the testimony of the Black Panther star Lupita Nyong’o, knowing that “women of colour are believed less. It is a proven fact, unfortunately. Luckily there are so many of us, otherwise we would have been disbelieved.”
Hayek said men should not be afraid of change in the gender balance. “It is a very exciting time for men now. Because men have the opportunity to rethink what it means to be a man, and this comes with a lot of freedom,” she said.
“A lot of beautiful, peaceful men have been the victims of the bullying [by] men who think that the identity of a man has to do with violence,” the actor added. “A lot of men have suffered from that and have had to become that way too when they didn’t want to go in that direction.”
Hayek is a longtime champion for change in the film industry, having helped set up the Women in Motion talks at Cannes four years ago with her husband, François-Henri Pinault, the Kering luxury goods boss.
“We couldn’t have done it without a few good men like my husband,” she said, adding that it was “so sexy and unnerving when he comes up with ideas that I should have”.