If Salma Hayek“a biographical film about life Frida Kahlo which premiered twenty years ago, it undoubtedly introduced many to the story of the accomplished and radical Mexican artist. Kahlo was already an outstanding artist, but how many artists are household names? And how many of them are women? And how many of them are Latina? In the years that have passed since the release of the film “Frida”, the artist has gone from a star of world art to a global icon. Her face and her entire aesthetic has been abstracted, iconized, and even transformed into a the controversial barbie doll. She has become a symbol that perhaps overshadows the reality of who she was and why her story is important.

All this makes it worth looking back at “Frida” and not as a tortured result Salma Hayek survived Harvey Weinstein’s abuse, but as an important cultural artifact that shaped Latino identity. Professor of Communication in Latin American Studies, Isabel Molina tells POPSUGAR that Hollywood “wants to see its Latina women in a particular way: not too dark, not too light, just the right color, the right body, style and shape.” For Dr. Malina, “Frida” could wield both sides, strategically drawing crowds from Salma Hayekbeauty and star power, and then creates a complex film that defies expectations.

Dr. Malina has wrote more than once on “Frida” and shows how it frames Kahlo’s journey through her relationship with a man, here Kahlo’s husband, the famous muralist Diego Rivera. And indeed, watching the film, Hayek’s beauty never fades, no matter how thick her eyebrows are or how aching the body underneath is. “Frida” may have been filmed by a woman Julie Taymor, but the male gaze is still distinct in it (maybe it was the Weinstein influence). But Dr. Molina was also quick to point out that Frida is not a sex object in the film, saying “she showed that she really had agency over her body and her sexuality… She was the one who made the wishes.” And while sex is certainly an important part of the film – Frida’s bisexual affairs, Diego’s entertainment – this is only part of the complex story of a complex woman.

Dr. Malina remembers going to see the movie the weekend it premiered. “It was mostly Latinos in the theater… It really made me realize how important this representation was. Because at that time there was simply nothing. In 2002 there was “The George Lopez Show, right? That’s all. There was nothing focused on women,” she says. And Frida didn’t just tell a woman’s story, it focused on a “smart, intelligent, capable, artist [who was] politically motivated.” It wasn’t a mainstream movie at the time. Dr. Molina recalls, “I walked out of the theater thinking, ‘Wow, that was really good.’

In her 2017 New York Times op-ed, Hayek wrote:My greatest ambition was to tell her story. My mission was to portray the life of this extraordinary artist and show my native Mexico in a way that challenged stereotypes.” And she did, but of course it’s never that simple. The combination of Hayek’s beauty and the film’s emphasis on According to Dr. Molina, Kahlo’s personal life canceled the politics of the artist. She claims that the film “presents this image of Frida Kahlo, her art and her politics, which are safer to perceive… The film just made her less political. And by doing that, you make it possible to use her image to sell anything.”

“Her image was commodified, her art was commodified,” he agrees Ariana Davisjournalist and author “What Would Frida Do? A Guide to Courageous Living.” She wrote the book in part to tell “the real meaning and the real story” of the face that covers so many T-shirts. While researching the artist, Davis was particularly impressed by how ahead of her time Kahlo was, a fact that doesn’t shine through in the film. Part of it is just the limitations of filmmaking. We see Frida struggle with her mother’s expectations, but with such a limited amount of time, it’s hard to understand what was typical. Besides, we’re used to shows like “Big” that blend modern and historical cultures and aesthetics to such an extent that it’s easy to lose track of what was normal and when.

But Kahlo was hardly normal. Davis reminds us that she came of age in the 1920s and 1930s, when “the women’s suffrage movement was just in its infancy.” And yet, here was Kahlo answers the journalist’s questions about her husband with quotes like “he does very well with a little boy, but it’s me who’s a big artist”. It was 1933, a time when, according to Davis, “women still had to be at home supporting their husbands, especially if your husband was like a world-famous, famous artist. Maybe you’re allowed to have a little hobby on the side, but your main focus is being a housewife.” Indeed, the article that first appears with this quote is headlined, “Painter’s Wife Delights in Artwork.”

In this context, Davis cannot help but be struck by the fact that Kahlo was “so vocal and open about her own dreams, her own passions. And she didn’t hesitate, either in private or in public, to just be your own cheerleader, speak up for yourself and have confidence… the more I saw little instances like this, just researching her, the more I thought, ‘Wow, she was just so bad.”

The Kahlo legend—as it was depicted in Frida and as we have since understood it—has had a lasting impact. She definitely influenced our ideas about beauty. Davies reminds us that, as someone who painted dozens of self-portraits, Kahlo “had the power to show her image. So if she wanted to clean herself up a bit, if she wanted to make herself thinner or remove a mustache or a single eyebrow, she could have it. But she chose not to do that, she painted herself exactly as she was.” And she was beautiful and celebrated her own beauty by recreating on canvas her favorite shade of lipstick, the ribbons she put in her hair, and the pattern of her braid. Kahlo was a woman who cared about her appearance, but carefully defined her image. She also pushed the boundaries in other ways. Davis shares, “Of course we’re still talking today about how to normalize conversations about miscarriage and pain and things like that, but she was one of the early pioneers,” describing her experiences around these issues with vivid emotional clarity.

“She was able to put thoughts, feelings and emotions on canvas,” says Davis. – Even though I’ve looked at all her paintings and liked a lot of her work, I still sometimes admire her [by] emotions she could only evoke with brushes. She just had a fearlessness and an ability to just put those emotions on the canvas.” And that fearlessness is preserved in Kahlo’s art and in Hayek’s film that bears her name. “Even if you don’t know anything about Frida, you know that she was a historical woman , who lived her life very boldly and outside the box,” says Davis. Frida has opened the lid on that legend, however imperfectly, inviting us to break the rules, find our own definition of beauty, and rely on our own voices. It’s a legacy to be proud of. .