Salma Hayek told Oprah Winfrey that she initially felt ashamed and depressed after not speaking out when approached by reporters at the New York Times pursuing the newspaper’s initial bombshell report about Harvey Weinstein.
As a longtime advocate for domestic abuse victims and a host of related issues, Hayek said she felt she had betrayed her own values by staying silent, but the prospect of adding to the chorus initially felt pointless.
“I felt like my pain was so small” compared with that of others, she told Winfrey today at Harlem’s historic Apollo Theatre to cap a day of talks for Winfrey’s SuperSoul Conversations. “I thought, ‘There’s no point for me to talk because it happens to everyone.’ ” She gradually came to realize that “when we come together and unite with each other, it’s not about drama. It’s not about pain. It’s about something that can move powerfully and make change happen.”
Two months after declining to participate in the Times story, she wrote a powerful first-person piece for the newspaper detailing allegations of sexual harassment and abuse by Weinstein. The pattern did not include assault but continued for five years, she maintains, around the time of the making and release of the 2002 film Freida. (A rep for Weinstein then issued a statement denying the allegations.)
The emotional and thoughtful half-hour exchange came at the end of the five-hour SuperSoul Conversations. The multi-platform umbrella for her conversations with notable figures feeds a TV show on the OWN cable network, a podcast and a book. Along with Hayek, the guest roster included Jordan Peele, Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, Yara Shahidi and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Hearing Hayek’s explanation of her initial reticence, Winfrey shared an anecdote about being with a group of women in the industry, including Reese Witherspoon and others she declined to name, two days after the initial Weinstein reports had been published. Witherspoon soon would share her own #MeToo story, but other women in that group that day decided not to divulge anything.
Winfrey recalled the body language in the room reminded her of people suffering from the effects of PTSD and reminded her of work she had done with young survivors of abuse. “You’re reacting the way I have seen molested children act because they think they’re the only ones this has happened to,” she remembers thinking.
Hayek, who has branched into producing and dealmaking as she continues to act, said the cumulative effects of the #MeToo movement and initiatives like Time’s Up need to be put in a broader context and seen from a long view.
“Sometimes we underestimate our efforts – everybody’s efforts — and the power it has to change,” she said. “The only reason that this is working right now is not only because women spoke out. It’s also because everybody listened. I think that what happens is that we start making changes and we don’t see the results and we think if the change is not happening. Humans are slow to change.”
In a very Oprah-worthy — but genuine and affecting — moment, she said the incremental work of creating a new reality should be its own reward.
“We have to be brave and excited with not just the result of the change but the little steps and the effort we put in every day,” she said. “You might not see it, but it will happen. And you can’t give up on it.”
While the seriousness of purpose and the depth of feeling onstage never wavered, there were occcasional sardonic moments that displayed Hayek’s wit and sensibility. In expressing the long-term resentment of being mistreated by men — an experience that far predated her dealings with Weinstein — she channeled the messages women are sent in American society.
“We are told, ‘You have to be the Virgin Mary, but you have to do what I say when I say, OK?’ ” she said. ” ‘You have to be attractive but you cannot be too attractive because then you are telling me that I can do whatever I want with you.’ What the f*ck is with you?”
The audience, some members of which had been keeping up a steady stream of interjections like “preach it!” throughout the talk, burst into laughter and applause.