Jennifer Lopez: Hispanic Heritage Month Actor Highlights

She was "Jenny from the Block." Now, she's Jennifer the superstar. We kick off Hispanic Heritage Month spotlighting the multi-talented Jennifer Lopez.

Matt Lissauer

By Matt Lissauer

Jennifer Lopez - Hispanic Heritage Month Highlights

© STX Entertainment / Courtesy Everett Collection

She's a former Fly Girl, a pop-music superstar, and a multi-award-winning actress. The world knows her as "J.Lo" and "Jenny from the Block." Today we kick off a month-long celebration of the great performers, filmmakers, and films for Hispanic Heritage Month. We're leading the celebration highlighting the multi-talented superstar with multiple nicknames, Jennifer Lopez.

How You Know Her

Right now the world is curious to know her relationship status with her ex Ben Affleck. But we're not going to touch on that here. As a dancer, singer, actress, producer, and businesswoman, Jennifer Lopez's success spans all forms of entertainment.

Lopez started as a famed Fly Girl during the mid-seasons of TV's "In Living Color." She then became a pop sensation with her 1999 and early '00s pop-dance albums. Through all that, she turned in a multitude of memorable movie roles.

Her big break came from portraying the late Tejano music star Selena Quintanilla in "Selena." The role earned her many awards and nods, including a Golden Globe nomination. After that, she joined Sean Penn on an unforgettable ride to Vegas in "U Turn" and entered the mind of a madman in "The Cell." Lopez voiced a worker ant in "Antz" and got caught in the gaze of George Clooney in "Out of Sight." She may have stumbled a bit with Ben Affleck in "Gigli," but she later came out on top in the award-winning "Hustlers."

The same award season Jennifer Lopez promoted "Hustlers," she appeared with fellow Hispanic pop star Shakira in a show-stopping performance at the Super Bowl LIV Halftime Show. This earned Lopez her first Emmy nomination, while "Hustlers" led to her second Golden Globe nod.

Her Life So Far

© Columbia Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

© Columbia Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

Jennifer Lopez was born in the Castle Hill neighborhood of the Bronx in New York City. Her parents were first-generation Puerto Rican immigrants, making her and her two sisters the first natural-born American citizens of her family. Puerto Rican culture played a significant role in her childhood and her early albums "On the 6," "J.Lo," and "This Is Me... Then" are direct nods to her life growing up in the Bronx.

Even though we all might best know her as a singer, Lopez actually started as a dancer and actress. Her first on-screen role of any kind was in the 1986 drama "My Little Girl" with James Earl Jones and Mary Stuart Masterson. In the early '90s, she danced backup for MC Hammer and New Kids on the Block. She then made her big TV debut in 1991 as a Fly Girl dancer on Keenen Ivory Wayans' hit Fox sketch show "In Living Color." Actress Rosie Perez choreographed the dance troupe. While on the show, Lopez decided to pursue acting and left in 1993, after two seasons. She then started acting professionally, appearing in various TV dramas.

Lopez's first major film role came in 1995, when she appeared alongside Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson in the heist comedy "Money Train." While reviews weren't kind to the movie at large, many critics agreed that Lopez was the standout. That same year she appeared in the indie family drama "My Family." This role led to an Independent Spirit Award nomination.

© Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

© Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

Her big break wouldn't come until 1997 when she starred in the biopic "Selena." The film chronicled the short life of Mexican American singer Selena Quintanilla. Jennifer Lopez was 25 at the time, so it wasn't too much of a stretch for her to play the singer who was tragically slain at the age of 23. Co-produced by Selena's father Abraham Quintanilla Jr., "Selena" was a chance for the family to tell the true story. Their first choice was Mexican actress Salma Hayak. But she passed feeling the biopic was too soon. Lopez landed the role. In doing so, she became the highest-paid Latina actress in the history of Hollywood at the time.

"Selena" was a huge hit and landed Lopez her first Golden Globe nomination. Though her role was critically praised, Lopez and the filmmakers did face cultural backlash. Latinos didn't like that a Puerto Rican American was portraying one of the most famous Mexican American singers (the Netflix mini-series "Selena" corrected this slight last year with the casting of Mexican American actress Christian Serratos in the title role). Regardless, Selena's family supported Lopez through it all. Lopez even lived with Selena's sister Suzette to prepare for the role. Selena's family found that Lopez embodied the "spirit" of their late daughter. They saw Selena in everything from Lopez's personality to her laugh.

Jennifer Lopez followed up "Selena," with more big film roles. She appeared in the horror/thriller "Anaconda," the Oliver Stone/Sean Penn crime drama "U Turn", and Steven Soderberg's 1998 crime caper "Out of Sight." The latter of which found her starring alongside then "Sexiest Man Alive" George Clooney. Lopez played a U.S. Marshall who falls in love while on the trail of a bank robber (Clooney).

The film was a star-maker for both Clooney and Lopez. Film critic Roger Ebert was among the many who saw the undeniable chemistry between the two leads, writing that, "[the] two have the kind of unforced fun in their scenes together that reminds you of Bogart and Bacall."

Highly praised, "Out of Sight" received multiple award nods, including Best Screenplay at the Oscars and Best Kiss at the MTV Movie Awards.

© Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

© Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

While "Selena" led to many big film projects, it also tapped Jennifer Lopez's singing bug. At the same time she was becoming a movie star, Lopez took a detour into the music world. In 1999, she debuted the smash album "On the 6." The title is a reference to her Bronx roots, as "the 6" is the subway train that took her to her home from Manhattan. The lead single "If You Had My Love" was an instant success, peaking at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for five weeks. Its accompanying music video also received maximum MTV airplay. The song's B-side "No Me Ames," also peaked at #1 on Billboard's Hot Latin Songs chart. Her third single, "Waiting for Tonight," probably is her most iconic, but not nearly as iconic as that Versace dress she wore to the Grammys that year.

Jennifer Lopez's follow-up album "J.Lo" was also a massive success. Did the album title inspire the nickname or was it vice versa? No matter, she was on her way to becoming a bonafide superstar. The same week "J.Lo" debuted at #1 on the US Billboard 200 chart, her new rom-com "The Wedding Planner" also topped the box office. Lopez was the first woman to achieve this feat.

While Lopez was finding success in the music world -- with "J.Lo" and her third album "This Is Me...Then" -- she was also finding continued success in movies. In 2002, Lopez starred in the thriller "Enough" and the rom-com "Maid in Manhattan." The comedy would be her highest-grossing live-action film until "Hustlers" in 2019.

© Columbia / Courtesy Everett Collection

© Columbia / Courtesy Everett Collection

The next year Jennifer Lopez's career took a downturn. As she and Ben Affleck dominated headlines with their romance, the two starred in a few flops. They met on the set of "Gigli" and announced their engagement right around the same time the film became an infamous box office bomb. Their follow-up, "Jersey Girl" from Kevin Smith, also wasn't well received. Needless to say, their engagement was short-lived.

At the end of 2004, Lopez rebounded with a successful turn in the romance "Shall We Dance?" with Richard Gere. The following year saw her complete "Rebirth." She took a career hiatus and worked on that album while also taking a break for herself. "Rebirth" intended to be a relaunch where she shook her previous "J.Lo" image that defined her for half a decade. In May of 2005, Lopez stared in another rom-com, "Monster-In-Law," with Jane Fonda. The movie was also billed as a relaunch. One in which she hoped to completely shake the stink of "Gigli" that still festered around her headlines.

As the 00s came to a close, her music and film career hit a stagnation. Lopez married singer Marc Anthony and made the same mistake she made with Affleck. The two starred in the indie biopic "El Cantante," based on the life of salsa singer Héctor Lavoe. This was another critic-miss and box office flop.

© Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

© Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

All this changed in the new decade, as the 2010s marked a true career rebirth. Jennifer Lopez started the decade with a judgeship on "American Idol" and a hit single with Pitbull. She turned in appearances in the successful rom-coms "The Back-up Plan" and "What to Expect When You're Expecting." And amid all this, she launched a clothing and accessories line with Tommy Hilfiger for Kohls.

In 2012, Lopez joined the voice cast of "Ice Age: Continental Drift," which later opened to $46M. The family film still stands as her highest opening weekend. The following year she earned praise for her role in the Jason Statham crime thriller "Parker."

In 2013, she executive produced the family drama "The Fosters" for ABC Family (now Freeform). Inspired by her aunt, the show followed a same-sex couple raising a biological son and four adopted teens.

Lopez continued to act throughout the decade. Her major roles include "The Boy Next Door," the animated hit "Home," and the indie crime drama "Lila & Eve." She also starred in two successful NBC shows, the cop procedural "Shades of Blue" and the dance competition "World of Dance."

After starring in the 2018 comedy "Second Act," Lopez gained critical acclaim in "Hustlers," which she executive produced. The film, inspired by a true story about a group of strippers who con wealthy men, put her back on the awards circuit. Her role drew the consideration of many awards, leading to her second Golden Globe nod.

Recently, Jennifer Lopez is a leading voice for change, advocating for more Hispanic diversity in media. In 2017, when Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Lopez was among the most vocal helping seek aid. While American relief efforts were slow, Lopez toured the destruction and called on all Americans to treat Puerto Ricans the same. She pledged $1M in relief and hosted a telethon that helped raise an extra $25M in aid.

The Movie to See

© STX Entertainment / Courtesy Everett Collection

© STX Entertainment / Courtesy Everett Collection

We will be covering Jennifer Lopez's breakout performance in "Selena" in the coming weeks (spoiler alert). As such, today we're going to recommend something of her's that's more recent. Lopez's acclaimed turn as Ramona in Lorene Scafaria's crime drama "Hustlers."

Based on a true story, "Hustlers," is lead by a dynamic Lopez in a career-defining role. Lopez stars as veteran stripper Ramona, who takes new stripper Destiny (Constance Wu) under her wing. Ramona is smart and conniving, while also thoroughly mesmerizing as a dancer. After the financial crisis hits in 2008, Destiny reconnects with her former mentor. She discovers Ramona's new hustle, conning rich men out of their money. And not just the bad dudes.

As soon as writer/director Lorene Scafaria finished the screenplay, she knew she had to cast Lopez in the lead. Funny and empowering, "Hustlers," tells an incredible true story. It also upends the preconceived notions everyone has about strippers, especially men.

What's Up Next

Jennifer Lopez is still producing hit singles. This summer she collaborated with the fellow Puerto Rican rapper Rauw Alejandro on the song "Cambia el Paso."

On the movie side, you can look for her next year in the rom-com "Marry Me," where she stars alongside Owen Wilson. Lopez won't stray too far from the familiar for the role. In "Marry Me" she plays a Latina pop star who chooses to marry one of her concertgoers who holds up a sign that says "Marry Me." Lopez is also set to write and produce the accompanying soundtrack.

Later next year, she will star in "Shotgun Wedding" for Universal. Lopez also recently signed a three-picture deal with Netflix.

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Hustlers

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Drama

September 13, 2019

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Matt Lissauer

Matt Lissauer is a writer & data manager for Noovie. When he is not busy writing listicles, Matt is enjoying life in New Jersey with his lovely wife and three kids.

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