15 Years On From Frida: Revisiting Salma Hayek’s Biopic In The #MeToo Era

Today marks the 15-year anniversary since Frida, Miramax’s 2002 biopic starring Salma Hayek as Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, first premiered in UK cinemas.

Unfortunately, what should come as celebratory news feels bittersweet.

Frida used to be a film I only had the fondest memories of, as I’m sure many others did. The biopic, directed by Julie Taymor, brought to life the complex and charismatic Mexican artist I so deeply admired. The progressive painter whose work destigmatised women’s bodies, liberated female sexuality and taught others how to draw strength from vulnerability.

Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes praised Kahlo’s self-portraits for revealing ‘the successive identities of being still in the process of becoming’ – equally, I found Salma Hayek’s performance in Frida embodied Kahlo’s strong, yet malleable self. While the film’s portrayal of Frida and her husband Diego Riveria’s (played by Alfred Molina) toxic and all-consuming relationship is compelling viewing – in the film’s second half producing raw and visceral performances from both – it was Hayek who ultimately breathed life into my childhood idol.


But the following seems more problematic now than it did 15 years ago; in light of Hayek’s harrowing account of the sexual harassment and abuse Harvey Weinstein – Miramax Film’s ex-head honcho – subjected her to throughout the film’s production. In one instance, Hayek alleges Weinstein threatened to axe Frida because he didn’t believe the biopic was ‘sexy enough’ and blackmailed Hayek into performing a full-frontal nude, lesbian sex scene with her fellow actor Ashley Judd.

Frida was undoubtedly a career-defining role for Hayek, earning her a Best Actress Oscar nomination, in addition to the film amassing five further nominations, and walking away with two Oscars on the big day. Hayek described the biopic, which she co-produced, as a passion project to The New Yorker:

One of the forces that gave me the determination to pursue my career was the story of Frida Kahlo, who in the golden age of the Mexican muralists would do small intimate paintings that everybody looked down on. She had the courage to express herself while disregarding skepticism. My greatest ambition was to tell her story. It became my mission to portray the life of this extraordinary artist and to show my native Mexico in a way that combated stereotypes.’ Hayek goes on to recount how: ‘The Weinstein empire, which was then Miramax, had become synonymous with quality, sophistication and risk taking — a haven for artists who were complex and defiant. It was everything that Frida was to me and everything I aspired to be.’

In the end she succeeded, but this feeling would soon be outweighed by the price she had to pay, being the subject of Weinstein’s repugnant demands. These included letting Weinstein watch her shower, perform oral sex on her, and letting his naked friend give her a massage.


After learning it was Frida’s 15 year anniversary today, I wanted to rewatch my favourite film for old time’s sake. But I felt uneasy doing so in the post Weinstein era; privy to Hayek’s disturbing account of what happened behind the cameras. Surely this would taint the film irrevocably? With this mind, I wondered to what extent we can truly separate the art from the artist.

As I rewatched Frida,  one half of me was emotionally invested in the film, while the other half was invested in my external knowledge of it. With the latter constantly weaving in and out of my consciousness, I appreciated the film considerably less than I had previously. While I believe any good film remains a good one in its own right, once armed with certain background knowledge, it becomes impossible for emotional responses to not infiltrate our thoughts. The knowledge viewer’s enjoyment had come at its female cast member’s expense, proved all too fresh to absolve the artist from his crimes.

One part which made unsettling viewing was rewatching the nude, lesbian sex scene which Hayek claims Weinstein blackmailed her into doing. Seeing Hayek and Ashley Judd playfully rolling around in each other’s embrace, makes Salma’s accounts of the ordeal all the more horrifying:

I arrived on the set the day we were to shoot the scene that I believed would save the movie. And for the first and last time in my career, I had a nervous breakdown: My body began to shake uncontrollably, my breath was short and I began to cry and cry, unable to stop, as if I were throwing up tears…It was not because I would be naked with another woman. It was because I would be naked with her for Harvey Weinstein. But I could not tell them then…I started throwing up while a set frozen still waited to shoot. I had to take a tranquilizer, which eventually stopped the crying but made the vomiting worse. As you can imagine, this was not sexy, but it was the only way I could get through the scene.’

The suffering, pain, mental and physical abuse Hayek had to endure, mirrors these forces which Frida had to contend with in her life. But just like Frida’s fierce determination to not let life’s adversities crush her down, Hayek’s story becomes a tale of perseverance; a woman against all odds finishing a film – under Weinstein’s near-impossible demands, including Hayek raising $10 million for the film and rewriting the script for no additional payment – because Weinstein was dissatisfied with the film’s sexual appeal.

Although there are no winners in situations like these, Hayek emerges victorious by speaking out against her oppressor and hopefully encouraging more victims in the #MeToo movement to find their own voices. One aspect which certainly troubled me the most, is how many other sex or intimacy scenes have we watched where victims have suffered in silence at the hands of their oppressor? If there’s one thing I’ve realised, it’s in the era of #MeToo we can’t look at things with the same set of eyes we once did before. This, at least, plants some seeds of hope.

How Netflix & On-Demand TV Disrupt Your Family Living Room’s Vibe

Its prime time as Specimen Family A gather around the living room TV:

Dad: ‘Let’s watch the second episode of Spiral?’
Daughter: ‘Binged them all yesterday – McMafia?’
Son: ‘Didn’t rate it.’
Daughter: ‘Derry Girls?’
Dad: ‘Christ alive…’
Dad: ‘An episode of Would I Lie To You we haven’t seen twice?’
Daughter: ‘Good luck with that…’
Mum: ‘The news?’
Son: ‘Too depressing.’
Daughter: ‘Celebs go dating?’
Mum: ‘Shall I sell my soul?’
Dad: ‘Clearly.’
Daughter: ‘Yeah, let’s go our separate ways…’

Let’s caveat one thing: the offering on TV is generally crap. Like the soul-destroying dregs of Bountys and Snickers leftover in a tub of Celebrations – you’re hardly going to pursue these Z-listers like a bull pursuing a matador. But when one just happens to land in your lap – needs must.

Of course, this is where the joy of on-demand TV lies; where we can create bespoke TV schedules, tailored around our fast-paced lives; where we can play God and magic up that celestial Malteaser Celebration every, single, time. We’re blessed with technology which streamlines and simplifies our time-poor days; at surface level, it seems all too accommodating.

But after speaking to friends, and from personal experience, conversations like these play out among families all too often. Which begs the question: are on-demand TV and Netflix killing the living room’s vibe? Has the advent of both made us more selfish with our time and more unyielding as people? Are those wholesome, community-spirited, Goggle Box moments becoming endangered in the digital age? A number of factors might suggest so…

Our Viewing Habits Are Becoming Out Of Sync
Overall, the number of consumers who watch live TV once a week has fallen from 92% in 2014 to 80% in 2017. But as a nation we’re not only watching less live TV; various age groups are consuming it in different ways.

First up, forget Netflix and chill; there’s no rest for the wicked. A whopping 40 million of us now binge shows back to back. More than half (53%) of 12-15 year-olds indulge in weekly binging bacchanalias, compared with a more reserved 16% of over-65s. For the latter, 59% prefer the more orthodox approach of one episode being released per week. This substantial difference in bingeing attitudes amongst younger and older age groups, means within a family dynamic, our viewing habits are becoming increasingly out of sync.

For younger generations, instant gratification is making us impatient and giving us an insatiable desire to always remain current and in-the-know. Our compulsion to imbue an entire series in the shortest time possible, often means we won’t wait around for others, in fear social media will let some spoilers slip. But if you thought keeping up with the Kardashian’s pregnancies was hard, trying to keep up with the cutthroat era of mass TV production is a whole other kettle of fish, which means sacrificing family viewing time along the way…

Watching TV Is Shifting From A Shared To Solitary A Experience
A new Childwise report revealed for the first time in history, children aged between five to 16 are more likely to watch programmes and videos on their laptops and mobiles, instead of a TV screen; with the prediction in two years’ time children’s internet usage will overshadow the television – the cornerstone of our parent’s and grandparent’s living rooms. Research from Ofcom shows 45% of us will watch a programme or film alone every day, while nine in 10 will watch a show alone every week. Watching TV – previously a communal and shared experience – is becoming a more solitary and private pastime.

You Don’t Choose? You Lose.
Somehow we have found ourselves inhabiting a world with ‘To Watch’ lists longer than the Bayeux Tapestry – and still – it’s harder agreeing on something watch, than getting Piers Morgan admit he’s a little shit, without sounding like he’s been awarded an OBE. There’s now such an overwhelming array of programmes stockpiled for our viewing pleasure, from the likes of Netflix, Amazon, HBO, 4OD, iPlayer etc., their sheer enormity is debilitating enough to rob you of a decision. Such is the paradox of choice. What should be a liberating pursuit becomes an imprisoning one, as we’re paralysed by the vast abundance of options. As WIRED’s Jason Parham aptly discusses this phenomenon, ‘The universalization of streaming platforms brought with it an overabundance of content. The response was near berserk: major networks and cable channels infused respective programming, stuffing screens fat with competing shows, some of top-tier quality—but many more, as critcs have pointed out, that were merely good. The Era of Prestige TV evolved into the Era of Too-Much TV.’

Often indecision means resorting to ‘the box’, letting it become background noise, as we mindlessly scroll through the phones we don’t particularly want to be on; Insta stalking your third cousin thrice moved (at which point you’re uncertain you’re still related) and amuse yourself looking up hopelessly abysmal cheese puns like R’n’Brie (‘cus they’re so bad, they’re gouda…). Can someone please save us from ourselves?

We’re Using Communal Spaces In Isolated Ways
We’ve all been there – the annoyance you feel, having taken an age to agree on something to watch with your mate, only for them to spend the next 120 minutes fanatically WhatsApping, Depopping and chirpsing on Bumble, as if it’s their final seconds on Earth. The frustration you feel making comments about a show, only to look up and see everyone has zoned into their phones and popped you on mute (tough crowd). Then again, maybe you’re completely oblivious to the following because that person is normally you… Nowadays, we tend to use our communal livings areas in far more isolated and disconnected ways. The irony being, while on-demand TV enables us to determine when we are ‘present’, how can we really be with a myriad of distractions constantly pulling us away from our communal spaces? Of course, on- demand TV isn’t really to blame for this, but our phones and social media mainly have a lot to answer for: striving to stay switched on to everything all the time, is actually preventing us giving our undivided attention to anything.

What Next?
We’re spending less time watching TV as a family in our living rooms, as younger generations spend more time binging programmes online. Netflix and On-Demand TV have gifted us with TV shows of the very highest calibre – which should, in theory, bring us closer together. But our different viewing habits are fracturing family down time, as we stop using communal spaces like we used to. While the wealth of choice is phenomenal, it’s phenomenally daunting and fresh breeding grounds for disagreement with the family. While younger generations are playing such a knackering game of cat and mouse to see who can stay the most relevant all the time, it’s giving us premature wrinkles.

But, in-keeping with the cycle of life, some traditions come and others must go. So what does this mean? The whole family craning their necks around a laptop screen in the evening (cute) or more time spent ‘chilling ‘together’ in the living room, as we all silently text on our phones? Who knows what the future holds… But in our haste, we should remember, one way or another, to carve out some quality family bonding time when you are all together.

Whether this means coming to a compromise or agreeing on a show to dip in and out of each week with the family (and accepting you won’t spontaneously combust if your mate finishes it before you), then that’s something at least. Failing all the above – would watching a rerun of Would I Lie To You with the family for the umpteenth time really be such a crime? (Besides, what’s the harm in telling a little white lie?)