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Jennifer Lopez as Selena Quintanilla-Pérez in Selena 1997, Houston Astrodome

Jennifer Lopez is just coming off Oscar conversation for her role in Hustlers and headlining the 54th Super Bowl’s halftime show with Shakira. The actress, producer, singer and dancer has been so famously known as J-Lo for a while, but her ambition to pursue acting and music together started in tribute of a Latina musician who came before her. Gregory Nava’s Selena was the breakout performance that turned things around for Lopez back in 1997.

It has been 25 years since the tragic murder of Grammy-winner Selena Quintanilla-Pérez. Selena was made shortly after her loss in an effort for the mourning family to cement her legacy. The movie opens on the artist’s final televised concert at the Houston Astrodome, where Selena played to almost 70,000 people – her biggest concert of her career. Writer/director Gregory Nava insisted the scene starring a young Jennifer Lopez be filmed on location of the concert. They invited fans via newspaper ads and were supported in droves. In Nava’s words to CinemaBlend:

When we did this scene, we didn’t have a huge budget to make the movie. One of the reasons why it was so beautifully realized was the support of the Tejano community. 35,000 people came. We didn’t pay them, they came out of their love for Selena and they filled that stadium. We couldn’t believe it and they all came dressed as if they were coming to a Selena concert and many of them had been at the Houston Astrodome concert with Selena. They came to support the movie and see how good Jennifer was going to do capturing Selena.

Selena was filmed on a production budget of $20 million at a time when Jennifer Lopez was just an up-and-coming talent. She would not release her first single as a pop artist, “If You Had My Love,” until 1999. Lopez was thrown in the deep end during the first leg of production to perform a concert in front of thousands of fans as the beloved Selena. At the time, fans were unsure about the pick since Lopez hailed from New York and Puerto-Rican descent, and was playing the Mexican-American icon from Texas. As Gregory Nava described:

She comes out. Can you imagine the pressure on this young woman? She comes out, she rises to the occasion and the audience went insane. Everyone was like, ‘Oh my god, that’s Selena onstage.’ Everyone was cheering, they were weeping all at the same time. Her family was there, they were all weeping and Jennifer performed just incredibly. And 35,000 people stayed all day long. We had to get lots of angles, we had to redo things. They stayed the whole time.

Jennifer Lopez had filmed the sequence prior at the studio’s request without an audience. As Gregory Nava told us, every shot viewers witnessed in the film itself was pulled from that day. It was an especially notable memory on the set of Selena because it showed the support of fans and convinced J-Lo that she wanted to get into music. As Nava tells it:

She got such a high, she was so energized from doing that scene that it's what gave her the idea to do a musical career. It was that very day afterwards, we were together alone in her dressing room and I was holding her because we were both trembling with emotion. It was so emotional because I knew she had done it and the crew had done it. She told me ‘I want that, I really want to do that.’

As we all know, Jennifer Lopez far exceeded her ambition to be in music years ago. It is pretty incredible that the performance that made Lopez decide she wanted to go all in on music was captured on film, right? Gregory Nava also pointed this out:

At that time Jennifer did not have any interest in a musical career. She was an actress and that was her greatest talent. She’d been a dancer In Living Color, but she was an actress. She had studied Selena’s dance movements and worked with Peter Savejo and watched the Houston Astrodome concert. She is a great dancer, but she was imitating Selena’s movements, lip-syncing to her voice.

You can check out the massive crowd during the opening of Selena below:

Looking back, Gregory Nava is grateful he got to give Jennifer Lopez the opportunity to find her success in film and music. He talked about how at the time of Selena’s production, films starring a Latina actress were unheard of. Although there is still room to grow for Latinx representation in film, Jennifer Lopez’s big moment in Selena remains an achievement. In Nava’s words:

[Latinos] are 35% of the moviegoing audience and Hollywood still doesn’t like making movies with us or giving too many big roles to us. We have to fight for those opportunities and when you do, people like Jennifer Lopez happen.

Warner Archive Collection is releasing Selena on Blu-ray for the first time on May 19. It will feature an extended version with additional sequences of Jennifer Lopez performing as the “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” singer and more scenes from her childhood. Selena follows the singer and her family from the beginning as their father inspires his kids to form a band and they gain prominence in the Tejano community.

After Selena, which gave Jennifer Lopez her first Golden Globe nomination, the actress went on to become a prominent singer in her own right and a leading lady in rom-coms such as The Wedding Planner, as well as films like Out of Sight and The Cell. She recently received her second Golden Globe nomination for Hustlers, where she played the real-life stripper behind the 2015 New York Magazine article “The Hustlers At Scores.”

Gregory Nava wrote Selena with the help of the Quintanilla-Pérez family just following Selena's death in 1995. She was murdered at the age of 23 by Yolanda Saldívar, the manager of her fashion boutiques. Selena’s family is also involved in a Netflix series about the famed singer starring Christian Serratos coming this summer. Stay tuned here on CinemaBlend for more interviews with filmmakers.

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