What was meant to be a celebration of women filmmakers at the Sundance Festival turned into an unyielding debate on feminism in the face of Donald Trump’s divisive administration.
Sponsored by Glamour and Girlgaze, the “Powered By Women” luncheon held days after the Women’s March on Washington did more than bring a host of influencers to one table. It ultimately ripped the guise of sisterhood to shreds, unearthing the distance women have yet to go to live in solidarity.
According to the Los Angeles Times, veteran actresses Salma Hayek and Shirley MacLaine offered their shared opinion that women shouldn’t reduce themselves to victims. “Find the democracy inside,” MacLaine told Jessica Williams, who alluded to the oppression of black, brown and queer communities.
Hayek chimed in to challenge the former Daily Show correspondent to “investigate” who she is beyond her race and womanhood. Williams, however, noted that it’s impossible for her to turn a blind eye to the inhumane legacy of white supremacy. “If you have to do that, then do that,” the Frida star retorted. “Then that’s your journey. But I want to inspire other people to know it’s a choice.”
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Williams later brought the issue of “mainstream feminism” to the forefront, expressing that she often feels her concerns as a black woman are cast aside in spaces dominated by white women. Transparent creator Jill Soloway jumped to the comedian’s defense. “With intersectional feminism, it’s our responsibility as white women to recognize that when there are people of color or people who are queer — we need to prioritize your voices and let you speak the loudest and learn from your experience, because we haven’t been listening. So please, Jessica, finish your thoughts.”
But others weren’t having it, including celebrity chef Cat Cora who eventually emerged from the kitchen to side with Hayek as she probed Williams on the muffled voices of black women in feminist circles. “What does this mean, ‘speak over?’” the one-time Ugly Betty executive producer asked.
“To project your ideas on me,” Williams explained. “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.”
And yet, she did. “Baby, I’m Mexican and Arab,” Hayek said, after cutting through mingled reactions. “I’m from another generation, baby, when this was not even a possibility. My generation, they said, ‘Go back to Mexico. You’ll never be anything other than a maid in this country.’ By the heads of studios! There was no movement. Latino women were not even anywhere near where you guys are. I was the first one. I’m 50 years old. So I understand”—a response that prompted Williams to shake her head among the discourse that made it clear that some women prefer to skim over the plight of others.
Even in the aftermath of a historic demonstration across the nation, showing up in the name of progress isn’t nearly as essential as listening, if lasting change truly is the goal. Read the full exchange here.