Jennifer Lopez stands today as both a successful actress and singer, though her success can be largely be attributed to her role in Selena, a biographical movie about the rising Tejano star who was tragically shot down in 1995. However, by starring as Selena, Lopez did not just catapult her own career, but she helped crystalize Selena’s timeless legacy as well.
After watching the premiere of American Idol 13, it became apparent that Idol judge, Jennifer Lopez, is an idol herself for young Latina girls across America. Born in the Bronx, the “Jenny from the Block” singer and her Puerto Rican family had a more-or-less humble start. However, her parents provided a supportive environment in which Lopez and her siblings would sing and dance in front of each other at home. She even excelled in track as she competed at a national level while in high school.
Her career in the entertainment industry took root with a role she landed in a low-budget film called My Little Girl (1986). The experience enticed her to work towards becoming a big time star in the movie industry. After some roles in musical productions, including one that took her to Japan, Jennifer Lopez scored her first prime-time gig, in 1991, as a Fly Dancer for In Living Color. In 1995, she got her first big role in the drama My Family. Her performance in the critically acclaimed film earned her a nomination for “Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Female.”
As Jennifer Lopez steadily climbed the ladder to stardom, her portrayal of Selena Quintanilla-Pérez in the biopic film Selena, launched Lopez into the limelight in 1997. Selena’s story is so compelling that its retelling commands a high standard. Accordingly, the auditions process was rigorous involving a country-wide search from thousands of young Latinas aspiring for the chance to play Selena. Lopez won the role amid several controversies including not being of Mexican origin and not being able to speak Spanish well. (Ironically, even Selena was not known to speak perfect Spanish.)
Ultimately, Lopez captured Selena’s spirit in the film which not only consoled mourning fans, but also expanded Selena’s legacy to include new ones. Selena ranks among the top 10 highest grossing musical biopics, according to Box Office Mojo.
The film depicted Selena’s journey to Tejano stardom. It starts off with her as a child singing with her family for patrons of their restaurant. It progresses charmingly to show her at one point sporting a “bustier ” – to her father’s chagrin – at a much larger venue. Audiences are helpless to fall in love with a Selena brimming with energy – only to be left in disbelief by her murder at the hands of her thieving fan club president.
Though some may argue that Jennifer Lopez owes her success to Selena, Lopez too helped Selena’s legacy and her loving admirers by bringing Selena’s story to a larger audience. The then 28-year-old Lopez played a 22-year-old Selena with unique innocence and vivacity. She conveyed how Selena was the girl next door but with a larger-than-life magnetism.
The experience acting as the “Dreaming of You” singer prompted Jennifer Lopez to pursue her own career in music. Her first song “If You Had My Love” released in May of 1999 and topped the Billboard Hot 100. Since then, she has continued in both singing and acting careers with successful releases like J.Lo and The Wedding Planner.
Selena’s Dreaming of You album released after her death in 1995 to debut at the top of the US Billboard 200 making her the first Hispanic to do so. Though Selena’s songs can capture any heart, Spanish- speaking or not, it was the film starring Jennifer Lopez that brought her amazing story to life in way that no book or documentary could. Today, both are regarded highly as role models for young Hispanics. No doubt, one Latina’s destiny is intertwined with the legacy of another.
By Fatema Biviji