Why J.Lo's Oscar campaign for 'Selena' never got off the ground

Selena Quintanilla-Pérez’s untimely death 25 years ago left fans mourning the loss of one of the brightest Latinx stars. At just 23, the Queen of Tejano music was tragically murdered, leaving behind an incredible legacy that included fashion — and of course, música

In 1997, director and writer Gregory Nava released a tribute to the Mexican-American entertainer in the form of the unforgettable biopic, Selena. In the title role: newcomer Jennifer Lopez. The woman we’ve now come to know as J.Lo “captured the spirit of Selena,” says Nava. 

Selena Quintanilla-Perez was tragically murdered in 1995 at the age of 23. (Photo: Getty Images)

He recalls holding an open casting call and tells Yahoo Entertainment 21,000 women came to audition. “It's the biggest search for the role, even bigger than the one that was done for Scarlett O'Hara for Gone With the Wind.” During the audition, Lopez did one thing that no one else had done. “I remember Marcella [Selena’s mom] gasping and saying, "Oh, she dances just like Selena,’” Nava explains. “She has the talent, the ganas (desire) and the passion.”

Jennifer Lopez played Selena Quintanilla-Perez in the 1997 movie, "Selena." (Photo: Ricco Torres/Getty Images)

It was Lopez’s breakout role as Selena that launched her career and landed the actress her first Golden Globe nomination. Many fans of the film, including Nava, believed Lopez also deserved an Academy Award nomination. 

“I felt she not only should have been nominated, but she should have won an Oscar for that part,” he says. Nava felt so strongly about Lopez’s performance he approached the heads of Warner Bros., at the time, and asked for an Academy campaign. He remembers they said, “She deserves it, but the Academy will never nominate her. They'll never nominate a Latina.” 

Despite not getting an Oscar nod, another huge door opened for J-Lo, thanks to Selena. Nava recalls Lopez’s first performance in front of a crowd was the opening scene of the movie at the Houston Astrodome. “35,000 people showed up. They packed the stadium,” he explains. “It was shooting that scene that gave her the idea to have a musical career because before that, she hadn't thought of it.”

Two years later, Lopez went on to release her first song, “If You Had My Love” from her debut studio album, On the 6. 

“Selena crossed over all these barriers, which have always been against us,” Nava says. “She moved through them like they didn't exist.”

Selena is available for the first time on Blu-ray as part of The Warner Archive Collection.

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