I’ve been reading some of the mainstream reviews of Jennifer Lopez’s documentary, Halftime, and one of the questions that keeps coming up is …why does she need to prove to us that she’s JLo when we all know already how successful she is and how hard it was to become this successful? It’s a fair question and journalists are supposed to interrogate artists and their work but at the same time, we can all take different things away from the same story.
As a pop culture commentator, of course I KNOW that JLo is a big deal. But at the same time, as big of a deal as she is, as I wrote yesterday in my first post about Halftime, she’s still being misunderstood, even when she puts out a whole ass one hour and 45 minute documentary about her path to this point! Instead of challenging the people in power who decided that they needed JLo and Shakira, both superstars in their own right, to do the job that traditionally ONE artist was asked to do, the focus instead became on pitting those two Latin women against each other. Why isn’t there a bigger conversation questioning the decision-makers about this?
So my answer to the question of who this documentary is for? Well maybe it’s for the people who still need reminding that even though she’s JLo, she still has to fight – and she DOES fight.
One of my favourite parts in Halftime is when JLo’s on the phone with an executive from the NFL who’s trying to cut down the time of the show. They already pulled that sh-t with asking two artists to headline, thereby forcing JLo and Shakira to split just over 12 minutes of performance between them. JLo was pushing for minutes, seconds even, negotiating with the NFL to give her more.
This, then, is for anyone who’s had to ask for more. Some of us have had to beg for more. And, yes, sure, I know, we’re talking about a pop icon and the Super Bowl, not exactly life and death. But it’s still her job. It’s still a snapshot of her AT WORK, advocating for herself and for her work – assertively, clearly, and not just settling for whatever it is that they would give her.
Because even though she’s JLo, there are still spaces where she’s not given much. And we see that during the parts of the documentary when she’s campaigning for that Oscar nomination (that never came) for her performance in Hustlers. It made me mad all over again watching this, because she should have been nominated, and I was big on that back when it was happening.
JLo wanted it bad, really bad, and she’s actually showing us how bad. You can see it on her face, any time a member of her team is telling her about the reviews, about the Oscar experts and their predictions; she admits that she allowed herself to believe it – and, frankly, she’s NOT embarrassed to have thirsted for it. There’s no apology here for craving recognition and acknowledgement from your peers, from this institution that Hollywood has declared to be the end-all-and-be-all of film prestige.
Is Halftime a vanity project? Of course. But there’s also a lack of vanity too in telling people how much she LONGED to see her name announced on Oscar nomination morning. Remember, most of them play nonchalant. Few of them would ever, ever, ever let the cameras roll on their disappointment and spend this much time in a documentary showing people how much time she spent trying to get it. And that shot they used of the five white actresses who did eventually get nominated was effective too.
So who is it for?
Anyone who needs reminding that even in the most exclusive rooms, women of colour can still be outsiders.
To be fair, of course, being an outsider in the Oscar room never killed anyone and again we’re not talking about a life or death situation. But in relative terms, maybe this is for everyone trying to get to JLo’s level of fame, a reminder that fame can’t fix every thing, and it certainly won’t fix the parts of society that we all need to actively and collectively call out and change. There’s a trickle-down to this that has all kinds of parallels. Gatekeepers exist at all levels and in all industries.
On that note, in my post yesterday about Bradley Cooper on the Smartless podcast and how he talked about self-esteem and what Hollywood can do to it, even during a moment when he was celebrating his Oscar nominations, he was sharing these feelings with his peers, a close inner circle of friends he’s known for 20 years who has seen him through the lows and the highs. One of takeaways from BCoop’s conversation with Will Arnett, Jason Bateman, and Sean Hayes is that they have always had each other, and been there for each other. Because they can relate to each other.
Who does JLo have? Who in that business can actually relate to JLo? There are a few… but not that many. She does, however, have collaborators who’ve been with her for a long time – music directors, choreographers, Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, her producing partner, these are the people we learn who’ve been part of that inner circle, a constant and consistent presence in her life with whom she’s built long and lasting relationships. Because creativity happens in community. I work in the creative community. This website is intended to be a creative community – you call on colleagues who become friends who become collaborators who are still confidants who are also your critics…
It's for them and anyone who aspires to thrive in a creative environment, it’s a reminder of how critical those relationships are, how connection is an essential part of success. This is what often emerges from these popstar documentaries; no artist, whether it’s JLo or Rihanna or Taylor Swift or Lady Gaga or Katy Perry has a rotating door of creatives coming through their lives; most commonly they build their own creative ecosystems, with new voices added now again, but when that happens, those people usually become linked to the tree and the branches grow. When I was watching Halftime, I thought about the tree system that I’ve had the joy of being part of it, the creative communities that have embraced me, and what I can do to help them expand.