Film ‘Beatriz at Dinner’ Serves Up Immigration Conflicts

The new film “Beatriz at Dinner” puts immigration squarely on the table.

Director Miguel Arteta and actress Salma Hayek do the same on a press tour promoting the dark comedy, which opens in the United States on Friday.

“The problems are there. This is a movie about how we are divided and [about] being an immigrant – and how difficult it is to be able to understand us,” says Arteta, sitting beside Hayek in a boutique hotel here earlier in the week. Over their shoulders, in the distance, palm trees sway and the turquoise Atlantic Ocean blurs into gray skies.

“Beatriz” is set on the opposite coast, in greater Los Angeles, with Hayek cast in the title role as a Mexican-born healer and masseuse. She drives to a gated estate to give a massage to Cathy (Connie Britton), one of her regular clients. Later, when Beatriz’s car won’t start, Cathy invites her to stay for a dinner party for business associates. One is a boorish billionaire real estate developer (John Lithgow) who mistakes Beatriz for a maid. That leads to biting insights about race, privilege and what it means to be an American.

“When you say America … who is America?” Hayek asks rhetorically in a short interview with VOA.

Art mirrors life

Like her character, Hayek, 50, was born in Mexico – but into a well-off family. She moved to Los Angeles in 1991 to study acting and, she has previously acknowledged, “for a small period of time” was in the country illegally. She found work as an actress and later became a naturalized U.S. citizen. She is married to French businessman Francois-Henri Pinault, and they have a young daughter.

Arteta and Hayek both take issue with President Donald Trump’s promotion of “America first” and of a bigger barrier at the U.S. southern border.

“Everything that is happening in the world is going to affect us all,” Arteta says, “and we have to help ourselves not to be, in a way, America first … me first.”

“All the talk about this wall thing, it’s not realistic, it’s not serious,” Hayek says. She urges more focus on immigration reform – and “not just about the border. What about the millions of people who already live here?”

Hayek suggests that issuing more work permits for Mexican laborers might discourage illegal stays: “Let me tell you something, there’s a lot of Mexicans – they don’t want to live here. They wish they could come, they could work when we are needed, and go back. But they can’t be coming and going, so they stay….”

“We need to start the dialogue,” the actress says earlier, in Spanish. “We have to concentrate on finding the solution instead of talking about this wall that is ridiculous and that will never happen … we are wasting a lot of time.”

Arteta and Hayek say they hope “Beatriz” will enrich the conversation.

Carol Guensburg contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.