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Frida-Mania Arrives In New York
From El Diario
October 25, 2002

By Eva Sanchis

Who would have thought that, thanks to the Mexican actress Salma Hayek and Hollywood, the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo is suddenly all the rage in the United States, with the new movie, "Frida" about her life showing in theaters? I ask this question because 70 years ago in this country, the symbol of capitalism, the Rockefeller family gave orders to destroy a Rockefeller Center mural painted by Kahlo’s husband, Diego Rivera, because the muralist, communist like his wife, refused to paint over a portrait of Lenin that he had created.

During many years, Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) lived in the shadow of Diego Rivera, a man that, besides being an icon of Mexican culture, was a womanizer twice her age who merely increased the pain that weighed heavily on the painter, whose back and legs were badly injured in a traffic accident when she was 18.

However, Frida’s fame began to grow after the 1983 publication of "Frida" the biography written by Hayden Herrera on which Hayek’s new film is based. The biography tells the story of a woman who not only bravely faced pain, infidelity from her husband and her own inability to have children, but also was able to transfer this pain into surrealist paintings that converted her into a world-renown painter, with expositions in Paris and New York.

Myths about Frida have grown among certain circles in the United States, who see her as a symbol of injustice and sexism, and since the 1980s her life has been a temptation for writers and filmmakers.

"Frida Kahlo" isn’t the first movie about the Mexican painter. Paul Leduc filmed a movie about Frida that was produced in Mexico, called "Frida, Naturaleza Viva." It was shown in 1983 and is considered the definitive movie about the painter. But now we are talking about a Hollywood production, so get ready for an avalanche of Frida-mania, which could take the country by storm, just as sharks, aliens and dinosaurs have done in their time.

Salma Hayek is now everywhere, promoting the movie at film festivals, being interviewed in the press and on television, and, as of yesterday, dressed as Frida in a wax statue in New York City’s Madame Tusssaud’s. Hayek had the luck or persistence – probably more of the latter--necessary to garner a role coveted by stars as big as Madonna, who is a well-known admirer and collector of Kahlo’s paintings, and Jennifer Lopez.

It doesn’t stop being surprising that it is Hollywood, this time through Miramax Films, that is making the painter a household name, but that is the power of movie stars. In this movie there are many, to name a few; Hayek, Antonio Banderas, the Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush, and Edward Norton, Hayek’s boyfriend for the last few years.

It is surprising, really, that "Frida-mania" is being created by Hollywood, because one of the major obstacles that Hayek faced as producer of the film, was to convince investors to support a movie where the protagonist was sickly and ugly and her husband was obese. Hayek was finally able to convince them that the story was attractive enough to be told, above all if Frida’s deformed body acquired Hayek’s shapely curves on the big screen.

The English language movie "Frida" is being shown in theaters at a moment when Mexico has broken from the rule of the party that, since the Revolution, had governed the country uninterrupted, and when the Hispanic population of the United States – above all the Mexican population–is growing at an incomparable rate.

Hayek, who began her career as a Mexican soap opera star, said when she introduced the film in Mexico, "we Mexicans are going to be very popular world-wide." It sure looks that way.

Translated From Spanish by Jonathan Charnay


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