Cannes: Salma Hayek Talks Sexism in Hollywood at 'Women in Motion' Panel

At the THR/Kering talk, the actress said the fix is to make studios see the economic power of women at the box-office.

The "Women in Motion" talks, presented by The Hollywood Reporter and luxury group Kering, continued Saturday with a Salma Hayek and Matthias Schoenaerts conversation that tackled gender disparity in Hollywood.

Janice Min, president and chief creative officer of THR parent Guggenheim Media's Entertainment Group, opened the candid discussion with some sobering statistics, including the fact that a mere 4.6 percent of studio films in 2014 were directed by women and that not one Oscar best picture nominee this year featured a female protagonist.

That drew a lengthy answer from Hayek, long a champion of women’s causes, who suggested that the box-office prowess of women continues to be overlooked by studio executives, who need to wake up.

"The only thing we can do is show them we are an economic force," said the actress-producer-director. "Nothing else will move them. … The minute they see money, things will be instantaneously different. ... Show them the money."

In fact, Hayek pointed to the movie industry’s current box-office woes and suggested that one reason is that the female audience -- which makes up half of receipts -- continues to be ignored.

"The movie is industry is in trouble because we don’t care about their movies, and they’re trying to figure out why,” she said. “What would happen if there was an open door, and somebody started doing movies that we want to see? … [The studio executives] think, ‘Chick flicks, romantic comedies. Guess what? We’re smarter than that."

Hayek also bristled at the idea of the current Hollywood paradigm in which leading men have contractual approval over their female co-stars and can often call for script changes to make the female lead be more passive.

"Most of the big stars in their contracts have approval of their leading ladies," she said. "The fact that he gets a say in who he gets to kiss I find is very sexist. … And they do not like it when the female character is strong."

In a particularly telling anecdote, Hayek recounted a incident where an unnamed studio executive told her she could have been the biggest star in the America, but her Mexican accent might remind people of their maids.

“He said, 'You’re smart, you’re talented, you’re beautiful. But you were born in the wrong country,’" she said. “At least he was sincere. I appreciated it."

Over her career, she has found unlikely champions in the industry, including Adam Sandler, who fought to cast her in Grown Ups despite studio reluctance. But she also missed out on the opportunity to star in a sci-fi film, which she declined to name, when the director couldn’t push her through as his first choice. “They said to him, ‘A Mexican in space?’”

But the film business, from Hayak's perspective, isn't unlike many other fields, where pay disparity continues to reign. "The sad thing is the only two industries where women make more than men are fashion and pornography," she said.

Schoenaerts, who is here at the Cannes Film Festival as the star of Alice Winocour’s Maryland, also opened up about the subtle forms of gender bias at play in the film industry.

“People say, ‘Wow, how is it working with a female director?’” he said. “I’m like, ‘What are you talking about? It’s like working with a person.’ [People ask,] ‘Is it like a female look at violence?’ I don’t even know what that means.”

But Hayek, an Oscar-nominated actress for her passion project Frida, suggested that things will improve as studio executives slowly begin to pay attention to the female-driven films that work, citing the The Hunger Games and Pitch Perfect films (the Elizabeth Banks-helmed Pitch Perfect 2 is projected to earn $64 million this weekend in North America and take the No. 1 spot).

“I’m 48. I’m at the bottom,” she joked. “[But] I’m working more than ever.”

The series of talks, which run throughout the 68th Cannes Film Festival, will resume Sunday with a conversation with French film writer-director Claire Denis and THR’s chief film critic Todd McCarthy.