Hardworking and underappreciated – what’s more Latina than that? Not much.
We’re a hard-working bunch, and in many ways the hustle – the good, the bad, and the ugly of it – define us. And that’s certainly what I saw watching Jennifer Lopez’s Halftime, a documentary following one of the most iconic Latinas of our time, over the epic year in which she earned awards chatter for Hustlers, headlined the Super Bowl Halftime Show, and turned 50.
Watching it, I was most struck by just how much of a reflection and cipher Lopez has become of Latinas at large. It’s partly that work ethic – we see her working hard, putting in long hours, and demanding more. That part is familiar although her type of work – getting glammed up to walk the red carpet, putting together a Super Bowl Halftime Show, sitting for interviews – is certainly different than what most of us do.
As is her level of success. Halftime ends with small text recounting just how much money Jennifer Lopez has generated – the millions and billions of dollars her products have sold. That rare and astronomical marketplace success is why she’s so well known and why she’s different. So many “It girls” come and go, but JLo has kept going. And that persistence, I think, is part of what makes her both relatable and aspirational.
But hard work can only do so much, which Latinas know in our bones as well. Despite our famous work ethic, we earn the least of any demographic group. For JLo, it’s not money but respect that she can’t seem to get. We see her go hard on the awards circuit for Hustlers, but ultimately fail to get the big prize: the Oscar nomination.
And the reasons she didn’t get it don’t appear to be about her merit. None of the Best Supporting Actress nominees that year were women of color. The commentary is about how she isn’t serious enough, how she’s more celebrity than an actress. She’s the too-loud, too-tough type of sexy. She may be working twice as hard but she’s only getting half as far.
The same thing seems to be happening with the Super Bowl. She’s thrilled to do the show, even as she acknowledges the cloud the performance premiered under, following the year many boycotted the NFL in support of Colin Kaepernick and his Black Lives Matter protests. There’s also the matter that she’s sharing her stage with Shakira – who JLo clearly respects and admires. But, as her manager, Benny Medina says, “it was an insult to say you needed two Latinas to do the job that one artist historically has done.”
Still, she finds a way to make the show work for her and make a statement along the way.
Lopez has evolved politically over the years – we see a past clip of her saying “All of [my songs] are about love… Some people write songs about politics or social issues,” and shaking her head. But Trump’s ascendance and the images of children in cages have ignited something within her. And her imperfect politics also make her a reflection of Latinidad – the ways our community needs to do some work and hopefully arrive somewhere better.
So at the Super Bowl, we see young Latinas escape light-up cages and JLo emerges in a giant, feathered flag – the U.S.on one side, Puerto Rico on the other – before passing it to her daughter as a sign of what’s to come. It’s a powerful symbol and one made more so by knowing she had to fight for it.
I’m not going to pretend that Jennifer Lopez’s path has been the hardest but she’s clearly faced a stacked deck and found her way through regardless. Hard to imagine what’s more Latine than that.