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Jessica Williams Speaks on What a Black Woman Deals With Every Day, and Salma Hayek Has a Hard Time Listening

"Let’s not just spend all the time in the anger," Hayek said to Williams at a Sundance luncheon celebrating women in film.

Jessica Williams at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival

Photo by Daniel Bergeron

A catered luncheon at the Sundance Film Festival, celebrating women in film, turned into a tense discussion of race and privilege Saturday, with former “Daily Show” correspondent and rising star Jessica Williams both caught in the crosshairs and boldly stepping up to educate her elders on the prevailing beliefs of the contemporary feminist and anti-racist movements.

As reported in the L.A. Times, it all started when the conversation turned to the current political climate, and Salma Hayek, at the festival with Miguel Arteta’s “Beatriz at Dinner,” advised her fellow female Hollywood elite to “be careful that we don’t fall into victimization.” Shirley MacLaine chimed in, urging women to “find the democracy inside” and to explore their “core identity.”

READ MORE: Park City Women’s March: Massive Crowd Turns Out to Protest Donald Trump During Sundance

That’s when Williams stepped in, who turned to MacLaine and asked, “What if you are a person of color, or a transgendered (sic.) person who — just from how you look — you already are in a conflict?”

MacLaine responded: “Right, but change your point of view. Change your point of view of being victimized. I’m saying: Find the democracy inside.” Hayek jumped in, asking Williams this doozy: “Who are you when you’re not black and you’re not a woman? Who are you and what have you got to give?”

Williams reportedly took a deep breath, and responded: “A lot. But some days, I’m just black, and I’m just a woman. Like, it’s not my choice. I know who I am. I know I’m Jessica, and I’m the hottest bitch on the planet I know.”

After “Mudbound” director Dee Rees added some thoughts, Williams delivered the A-listers a free lesson in intersectional feminism. “I also feel like the word ‘victim’ — I feel like it has bothered me,” she said. “When I talk about feminism, sometimes I feel like being a black woman is cast aside. I always feel like I’m warring with my womanhood and wanting the world to be better, and with my blackness — which is the opposite of whiteness.”

READ MORE: ‘The Incredible Jessica James’ Review: Jessica Williams Makes a Bid For Movie Stardom — Sundance 2017

When celebrity chef Cat Cora interrupted to share an anachronistic childhood anecdote, “Transparent” director Jill Soloway jumped in and re-directed the conversation back to Williams. Williams continued: “I think there is a fear that if we present an idea that, ‘Hey, maybe [black women] have it a little bit harder in this country’ — because we do, black women and trans women do — if we’re having it a little bit harder, it doesn’t invalidate your experience. I really am begging you to not take it personally.”

The entire exchange is uncomfortable to read, especially given the reporter’s observations of Williams’ physical discomfort and carefully measured responses. The story quickly circulated on social media, with many prominent women of color voicing their concern and support.

The author Roxane Gay tweeted to Williams: “I don’t know how you maintained your composure. And you deserved better there from the women who didn’t defend you.” To which Williams responded, “[H]onestly to their credit every single queer person who was there jumped in. Which was really really affirming & helpful.”

As Hollywood gears up for Oscar night and its racially inclusive nominees and (hopefully) winners, candid conversations like these do wonders to expose how much work so-called allies must do to raise up marginalized voices.

Hayek, who is of Mexican and Lebanese origin, is certainly a woman of color, one who struggled and faced prejudice early on in her career. However, that does not mean she knows what it is like to live as a black woman in America. She appeared to show little compassion for Williams’ position: “Baby, I’m Mexican and Arab,” Hayek said. “I’m from another generation, baby, when this was not even a possibility.”

Martha Plimpton, currently starring on ABC’s “The Real O’Neals,” tweeted: “Don’t address another adult woman with “baby” in a debate in front of business colleagues. Under any circumstances.”

“I feel misunderstood on one point: We should be also curious about our brain,” Hayek added. “By being the best that you can be. That’s what I was trying to say to you. Let’s not just spend all the time in the anger, but in the investigation.” Intentionally or not, by bringing up “anger,” Hayek relied on harmful racial stereotypes (the “angry black woman”) to make her larger point.

READ MORE: ‘Whose Streets?’ Review: Ferguson Doc Shows the Birth of Black Lives Matter With Unrelenting Power — Sundance 2017

That larger point appeared to be the fallacious notion that if a member of a marginalized group is simply “the best,” (read: works twice as hard to get half as far), they will be rewarded. Hayek’s background was one of privilege; her father was an oil executive and her mother was an opera singer. Her perspective is one that disregards systemic racism and this country’s history of institutionally sanctioned violence against black people.

Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams on “The Daily Show”

Comedy Central

Williams, whose speech was roundly praised as the best of the Sundance Women’s March, took on a room full of Hollywood A-listers and came out even more beloved for it. In dark times ahead, Hollywood is lucky to count Williams as one of its brightest young stars. Now it just has to listen.

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Lol as always feminists can’t even stand each other and divide themselves with bullshit differences.


    Again, more division. Latinos and Asians also get hated on. Most of us are all feeling it. And then on top of it all, were women. Geez. It’s tough. We Have To Stop dividing amongst ourselves, this is how they dominate us.

Briony Kidd

On the contrary, E…they’re discussing difficult things honestly and trying to learn and grow. Maybe you should try it sometime.


I am glad that the dialogue is opening up and this is the only way to learn and grow. One of the things that isn’t mentioned here is class differences. It is mentioned briefly at the end with discussing: “Hayek’s background was one of privilege; her father was an oil executive and her mother was an opera singer.” She grew up and still remains far removed from the rest of society. Also it seems that Salma didn’t grow up with adversity but only seemed to confront it when coming to America. Class difference in South America is related to race much like this country, but in Mexico It seems Salma did okay. It seems that she was defensive in that knowing others suffer more it meant it was easy for her when in fact i think what was being stated was that yeah your plight was rough and there is no dismissing it, but black women do face a great deal more of adversity. The experience is different and Salma wasn’t hearing it out.

Steve Corwood

oh baby baby… she is clearly angry, and that’s the whole point her “elders” are making–you need to forgive and clear your heart, and have a balanced point of view for it to be of any use and meaning. there’s no real integrity to what williams is saying–if you are an accountable human being (which also means you are forgiving), you have it about as hard as anybody else–EXCEPT those with health problems. but when all is equal health-wise, it’s character that’s the real measure of difficulty. the problem this embittered woman is having is a lack of forgiveness. move to eurpoe. the whole joint is one big racist paradigm–you don’t know howz good ya gotzit in good ol democratic america. fight for public heath care, free child care and higher ed, and move the society forward–that will actually do something to limit poverty.
this indiewire site is clearly run by a political agenda that’s self-righteously ramming it down the gullets of its subscribers, who mostly just want information about films. if you were responsible, credible journalists and just reporting what happened here that would be one thing, but you’re presenting it in terms of a bias that robs you of merit, particularly in the world of art. humanity is a complicated business, and it’s useless to try and simplify life like this into good and evil. why don’t you find something positive to celebrate about black women, report on a unique contribution, rather than an angry self-righteous diatribe, and going all-in behind her.
listen to miss kubelik, you might learn something.

    Ari Bryn

    Ohhh Steve, baby I think your tiny pecker is showing. Don’t ever try to lecture women on how to better. Especially not when you’re typing from your mom’s basement. It’s sad, really.


    No, Steve Corwood. YOU are the one who needs to “shut up and deal.”


So disappointed in Salma Hayek… There go your chances at getting Beatriz viewed by a large audience… Jesus. If you don’t know a persons struggle then just shut up.


Again, more division. Latinos and Asians also get hated on. Most of us are all feeling it. And then on top of it all, were women. Geez. It’s tough. We Have To Stop dividing amongst ourselves, this is how they dominate us.


non-black latinxs, we need to do better than this!

Shut Up Salma

Salma Hayek is married to a billionaire. The end. She’s always talked a good game, but in the end she doesn’t walk it and has no empathy for anyone not exactly like her.


She’s privileged…She doesn’t represent us Mexicanas or Latinx she represents the 1% she’s married to one too.

Hayek was born Salma Hayek Jiménez in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Mexico.
Her father, Sami Hayek, is an oil company executive and owner of an industrial-equipment firm, who once ran for mayor of Coatzacoalcos.
Her father is of Lebanese descent with his family being from the city Baabdat, Lebanon, a city
Her mother is Mexican, with her grandmother/maternal great-grandparents being from Spain.

Raised in a wealthy, devout Roman Catholic family, she was sent to the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Grand Coteau, Louisiana, USA, at the age of twelve. In school, she was diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD. She attended university in Mexico City, where she studied International Relations at the Universidad Iberoamericana.


Not sure how Jessica Williams referring to herself as the “hottest b*tch on the planet she knows” is supposed to command respect or make people take anything she says seriously

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