‘Selena’ Movie Made J.Lo the First Latina Actress To Earn $1 Million for a Role
Who else remembers staying up at all hours of the night (extra points if you had those sticky glow-in-the-dark stars on your ceiling) as your eyes were glued to the TV screen playing the “Selena” movie? For many of us, especially Latinos, the film was a game-changer — that “I Could Fall In Love” scene in the recording booth, the tour bus, the Astrodome performance, the outfits (!).
For those of us who saw it as children, the movie became an anthem, a rallying cry, and made us fans for life. While we would argue the film is perfect in every way, a lot of it came down to lead actress Jennifer Lopez‘s stellar performance.
Today is the “Selena” movie’s 26th anniversary, so we’re looking back at how groundbreaking it was. While it brought even more fame and admiration to the late, legendary Selena Quintanilla, the film also paved the way for Latina actresses for years to come. Plus, here’s our very-hot take: J.Lo has never been better in a film role, and deserved an Oscar nod for it.
Lopez’s role in “Selena” made her a household name
Lopez took on the Selena Quintanilla role when she was 27 years old, and it’s safe to say the film changed her life. Prior to the breakthrough role, the Bronx-born triple-threat had danced her way through the small screen as a Fly Girl on the TV show “In Living Color,” and landed early 90s roles in shows like “Second Chances,” “South Central,” and “Hotel Malibu.” The actress was slowly making her way to Hollywood, but it took years to truly hit the ground running.
By 1995, J.Lo nabbed a supporting role in the Hollywood movie “My Family,” which also starred Edward James Olmos — who would later play her dad in the “Selena” movie. Her role in “Money Train” that same year was big, as well as her 1996 appearance in “Blood and Wine” which also starred Jack Nicholson. That being said, by the next year, J.Lo’s “Selena” role changed everything for her — and officially made her a household name.
As per the Houston Chronicle, Lopez won out the role out of 21,000 actresses who auditioned. Director Gregory Nava explained to Yahoo, “It was a very long process, and a very difficult process, because we couldn’t offer the role to anybody. The family wanted to see who was going to play their daughter.”
All about the insane audition process
The emotional aspect of the role, especially for the family, but it arduous — Nava described, “We had an open casting call and were overwhelmed when 21,000 young women came to audition for the role of Selena. Everyone was taken by surprise.”
The filmmakers narrowed down the potential actresses to 12, including Constance Marie — A.K.A. the woman who plays Selena’s mother in the movie. The director recalled, “[Then] we had a full audition with cameras, lights and costumes.”
That audition was intense: “I designed a very difficult test where the actresses had to lip sync to Selena’s voice, dance and do dramatic scenes. So we really put them through the grinder and they were all made up and everything.”
However, by the end, the winner was clear. All the movie execs and Selena’s family members watched the actresses’ tapes, and agreed Lopez could “capture the spirit” of the “Como La Flor” singer. Nava explained, “When everybody else danced, they danced like themselves. Jennifer’s a great dancer, but she was the one who didn’t dance like herself. She had studied the tapes of Selena dancing and she used her talent as an actress to use her dancing ability to dance exactly like Selena and imitate her movements.”
The “Selena” movie became the first to pay a Latina actress $1 million for a role
Once Lopez got the role, it was time to get to work — but not without making history first. She negotiated a $1 million paycheck, making her the first Latina actress to ever make that much for a role. There’s no doubt that the 53-year-old was a pioneer in helping Latina stars get paid their true worth, and changed the game forevermore.
The “Maid In Manhattan” received a Golden Globe nod for Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy that year, but didn’t make it to the Oscars. Why? As Nava put it, execs didn’t push enough. The director remembers how studio execs told him: “She deserves it, but the Academy will never nominate her. They’ll never nominate a Latina. It’s a waste of money.” Infuriating.
This is what Lopez thinks about the movie role today
Still, the “Selena” movie’s impact was huge, making more than $35 million during its theater run. But it was so much more than just the box office — it impacted Latinos everywhere and paved the way for more representation. As Lopez once said at a screening, “It’s hard to be somebody else, somebody who is so beloved. Selena meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and I had to do a good job for her fans. I think we pulled it off. By the end of the film, I could look in the mirror and really see her.”
The actress has since referred to Selena Quintanilla as her mentor, and someone she thinks about when navigating her life and career. Lopez described, “This is one of the reasons why it’s so emotional, I’m watching her on the screen… and think, ‘If she was here she’d be doing what I’m doing right now.'”
As she put it, it will always be one of the most “important” parts of her life— even decades later.
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