There are a lot of things to be mad about this awards season, from the mostly-white acting categories to women shut out of Best Director. But nothing has filled me with more rage than the disrespect directed at Jennifer Lopez.
It’s bad enough that she didn’t get nominated for an Oscar despite her Career Best™ performance in Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers, but the snobbery surrounding her image as an entertainer is enough to make me want to pull out my earrings, turn on my location, and invite these naysayers for a duel at dawn. It seems people need a reminder of her overarching talent as an actor, and I am more than happy to oblige.
Lopez has been delivering great performances since the ‘90s. She broke through in 1997 with the cult horror Anaconda, starred in Oliver Stone’s U-Turn opposite Sean Penn, and earned critical acclaim for playing Selena in the biopic about the late Tejano music star. "Jennifer Lopez is radiant as the title character, conveying the boundless energy and enthusiasm that exemplified Selena, while effectively copying not only her look, but her mannerisms,” film critic James Berardinelli said at the time. “I wonder if Selena's family, upon watching this performance, felt an eerie sense of déjà vu." Lopez followed that with Stephen Soderbergh’s brilliantly sexy adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s Out of Sight. Her chemistry with George Clooney was palpable, and critics like Janet Maslin of The New York Times raved, “Ms. Lopez has her best movie role thus far, and she brings it both seductiveness and grit; if it was hard to imagine a hard-working, pistol-packing bombshell on the page, it couldn't be easier here."
So, there’s proof Lopez’s acting chops aren’t imaginary, but because she spent the next decade working her way through romantic comedies, revisionists will have you believe otherwise. Yes, movies like Monster-in-Law, The Back-Up Plan, Gigli, and The Wedding Planner were panned by critics, but that was directed mostly at the writing rather than Lopez's performances.
When you compare her career to that of her Wedding Planner co-star Matthew McConaughey, it’s hard not to see a gendered bias aimed at Lopez. Both made their names in indies before becoming the go-to stars for rom-coms, but while McConaughey decided to stop making rom-coms to focus on drama (he waited eight months until the right role came along, according to a Guardian profile), Lopez was becoming a global pop star. She also could’ve waited for a juicy role, but there aren't nearly as many lead roles available to Latinas as there are for white men. So Lopez hustled for success by using her musical talents; she's released 10 albums since 1999 and served up some absolute bops that still slap today. But apparently, you’re not allowed to be a great pop star and a great actor.
“Actors tend to think of Jennifer Lopez as a phenomenon more than an actress, per se,” former Oscar nominee Terry Moore told the New York Post. Really, Terry? How do you explain Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, and Cher's Oscars? And don't forget, there was a time when to be a big movie star, one had to be able to sing and dance as well as act. The idea that being a triple threat should work against Lopez's right to earn an Oscar is unfair.
Let’s go back to the career comparison with McConaughey, though. After taking a break, he made his comeback with lead roles in The Lincoln Lawyer, Mud, and Killer Joe before winning an Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club, where he played a grifter who games the medical system to get medication for AIDS patients. Ron Woodruff is a hustler just like Lopez’s Ramona, but for some reason, the film industry thinks McConaughey’s return to form is more noteworthy than Lopez’s. Is it because he lost a ton of weight for the role? Body transformations certainly seem to be a surefire way to win an Oscar: just ask Charlize Theron, Christian Bale, Tom Hanks, or you know, McConaughey. They suffered for their art, right? Well, Lopez did too!
Have you ever tried pole dancing? I did it for the first time in January at the London Dance Academy, and it left me battered and bruised. It's a tough workout, and after two hours of trying to learn the acrobatic basics of the routine J.Lo performed in Hustlers, I realized just what a monumental achievement it was. It’s because Lopez put the work in. She installed a pole in her various homes so she could practice constantly, and even got a Cirque du Soleil veteran, Johanna Sapakie, to train her personally. “She really became comfortable with it quickly because of her work ethic and because she was so diligent and determined to get it right,” Sapakie said. “She was able to achieve her goal by the end, which was turning upside down and ultimately looking like she's been doing this her whole life.”
It did look like she’d been pole dancing her whole life, and we saw that when she performed an incredible pole routine during her halftime show at the Super Bowl last weekend. But the true brilliance of her performance as Ramona, the same for McConaughey as Ron, was that they both brought brilliant emotional intelligence to people who are not always afforded that luxury in film. You felt everything these characters were going through, and certainly in Ramona’s case, why she was risking it all with a scam to make a better life for herself and her daughter. Lopez delivered on every level in this movie, and she deserves as much recognition for this performance, this comeback, and her career overall as Matthew McConaughey. You might not like J.Lo, but you damn sure should respect her for what she’s brought to the table for the last 20 years. She’s earned every bit of it.
You Might Also Like