THE HUMAN BEHIND THE DIVA

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The plethora of memes and commentary that floated through social media of Jenifer Lopez’s less-than-happy remarks on having to share her Super Bowl stage with Shakira in 2020 was the whole reason I watched her documentary, Jennifer Lopez: Halftime.

As someone who absolutely loved that performance, and observed nothing but mutual adulation and camaraderie between the two, I needed to know how much of it was faked. And, is it even possible for anyone to dislike the walking belly dancing goddess?

Although I invested 90 minutes all in the name of Shakira, I have to say I came out admiring JLo more than I did before for her dedication, perseverance and endurance, to stand the test of time which has kept her relative and no less in a league only a handful belong to. And yes – it would seem that the words of JLo were dragged out of context in the online outrage, as her fury was fired towards the NFL organisers and not her co-headliner.

The documentary begins with Lopez ringing in her 50th birthday with her children by her side. She gives us a peek into her extraordinary time in the limelight, her fight for artistic credibility, and allows us access to the person behind the strenuous dance routines, shiny leotards, extravagant performances and public persona.

Central to the film is the lead up to the Super Bowl LIV halftime show and her Golden Globe nomination for her work in the 2019 film, Hustlers. Documenting her life in the way this film does, connects the audience with a woman who they’ve seen for nearly three decades hogging headlines and tabloid covers for mostly her personal life than her personal accomplishments. It reminds us she’s so more than what the media loves to depict her as – a diva who dates famous men.

Lopez walks us through how the media of the early 2000s subjected her to major scrutiny, racism, sexism and constantly relegated her artistry. She details her constant fight to be seen and taken seriously, even now. 

On the plus side of this media madness that surrounded her, is the invention of Google Images. That’s right, we have her to thank for this feature the search engine introduced back in 2000 after she was clicked by a fusillade of camera flashes when she attended the Grammy Awards wearing her now iconic Versace green dress –there just needed to be a place the abundant images could be viewed at once. 

This attention understandably became incredibly overwhelming at times but she notes, she always stayed true to herself without playing into the narrative of what Hollywood expected of young girls like her.

Super bowl

During her Super Bowl preparation, in an intense moment she shares with her music director Kim Burse, she makes a comment of frustration for having to double headline with Shakira.  “This is the worst idea in the world to have two people do the Super Bowl,” she exclaims while trying to map out her routine that would have to be summed up in just six or seven minutes as opposed to the usual 12 full minutes given to a solo act.

And she’s right! Imagine having to concise all her hits into a powerful performance that would make sense in that insanely short time and simultaneously be spectacularly good at this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? So yeah, her fury towards the organisers seems completely fair, considering they not only deemed it appropriate to get two Latinas to do a job historically done by one artist, they also split the usual runtime between the two, instead of doubling it and giving each the same time duration usually allocated for halftime performances. 

Another concern for her with the performance was being able to have things done her way. Lopez has through the years pushed cultural barriers and fought for fair representation; she wasn’t going to let this platform go to waste at a time when hundreds of children were being separated from their undocumented guardians by border control. Given her own Puerto Rican background, she wanted to tell a story and she keeps no room for negotiation. Much to the dislike of the organisers she wasn’t going to just dazzle in glitter costumes. She was going to make a political statement and give over a 100 million viewers, a true moment to reckon with.

I guarantee if you watch that performance again, you’ll do it with a renewed admiration after watching this behind-the-scenes documentation.

The movies

As for her acting credits, we’ve all seen Lopez on screen throughout the years and she has had some big moments, although none have won her awards, despite coming very close with her breakout role in Selena.

Filmed during the time of the 2020 Golden Globes and Oscars of the same year, we get to see the gamut she runs through when it is widely suggested that her immaculate performance as Ramona in Hustlers will finally be the performance that brings home the win. Sadly, her excitement is short-lived when she doesn’t win the Golden Globe and fails to get an Oscar nod.

But she moves through the heartache. And what we see of her journey, humanises her in a way that we’re able to relate to her despite her being ‘JLo – the megastar’. Her struggles, her experiences, her flaws, her emotions, all take us one step closer to someone we’ve always viewed as an unattainable standard. Sometimes we forget that people like her, behind all that glitz and glam are just like us. She’s as human.

Halftime attests to Lopez’s recognition as an entertainment icon and how her tremendous work ethic and grit has carved out a career of this magnitude –it didn’t come easy, has some dramatic ups and downs but most of all, is her dream come true, and we are all here to watch her do it.

By Dilshani Palugaswewa