Jenny’s come a long way from her block in the Bronx - maybe too long?
Singer and actor Jennifer Lopez, who once told fans not to be “fooled by the rocks that I got,” found herself in the middle of a controversy recently: Can she still be Jenny from the block if she can't even come home to film an advertisement?
After she sealed an endorsement deal with Italian carmaker Fiat, one of her commercials featured her in the Bronx, where she grew up. The commercial shows Lopez driving through streets lined with bodegas, beauty shops, bucket drummers and dancing children. The song, “Until It Beats No More,” from her new album “Love?” plays in the background.
“This place inspires me to be tougher, to stay sharper, to think faster,” Lopez says in a voiceover. “They may be just streets to you, but to me, they’re a playground.”
But the woman in the car wasn't Lopez.
Indeed, Lopez’s scenes were shot in Los Angeles, while a body double shot the scenes in New York. The two collections of shots were merged with Lopez’s voiceover in a miracle of digital editing.
After Lopez costarred with a Fiat in her dance routine during the American Music Awards and news of the body double spread, Fiat released a statement that said, "In today’s world, people are increasingly mobile and their work takes them to a variety of locations. As a result, we took the opportunity to film wherever Ms. Lopez was working at the time to accommodate her schedule."
This week, TATS Cru, the creators of a graffiti mural shown in the ad, threatened to sue the production firm because they hadn't been compensated for its use. The matter was settled amicably the next day.
Online commenters still weren't impressed.
One commenter, GlossyShoes, wrote "Sorry but if the bronx really inspired her, she would fly out to make the commercial there.. shes prob scared too go back and is thankful she got out."
Another, Beowulf1211, wrote “Its a little ridiculous you shoot a commercial about roots…..and never leave Hollywood to shoot it.”
“You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks Jennifer Lopez actually drives a teeny-tiny $20,000 Fiat. She’s got toe rings that cost that much," advertising industry mag Adweek quipped.
"I just want to know, Lady Lo, why weren’t you there on my block that day where you could have mingled with aspiring Jennys from the block and gotten a refresher course in the Bronx we both grew up in?" wrote Ed Morales, the journalist and longtime Bronx resident who first outed Lopez’s use of a body double on his blog.
The Nuyorican performer’s success has often traded on her authenticity as a girl from one of New York City’s grittier boroughs. Her debut album’s title, “On the 6,” refers to the subway train she’d take to audition in Manhattan from her home in the Castle Hill section of the Bronx.
According to 2010 Census figures, 53.5% of the borough’s residents are Hispanic or Latino and 28% live below the poverty line. The annual median household income is $32,888.
One of the mansions she owned with then-husband Marc Anthony, whom she is now in the process of divorcing, is in exclusive Hidden Hills, California, where the median household income is more than $248,000 per year and 9.6% of residents are Hispanic or Latino.
Still, in a culture that places a premium on authenticity and not forgetting where you came from, much of Lopez’s branding is designed to appeal to the common person – someone who aspires to a star’s wardrobe at discount prices. Most items in her namesake apparel line at Kohl’s department stores are priced under $100. Her fragrance line is set at an inclusive price point. The cars she's driving for Fiat aren’t priced for the caviar-and-champagne set, either. The Fiat 500c starts at a suggested retail price of $19,500, and the Fiat by Gucci at $23,500.
Lee Hernandez, entertainment editor at Latina Magazine, said that not being in the Bronx during the shoot doesn’t mean that Lopez has lost touch with her roots – it just means she’s busy.
“People are just guessing that she’s ashamed of her community,” Hernandez said. “I don’t think there’s any sort of snobbery attached to her going to a certain place in the world… The significant thing to us is not where she shot the commercial, but that she is shooting a commercial, and that that’s attainable. That’s what she embodies.”
Lopez’s first major magazine cover was for Latina in 1996, Hernandez said, and even then, she appealed to the magazine’s up-and-coming, ambitious reader base. Recent comments on the magazine’s website indicate that most fans still support her, he said.
Hernandez said Lopez’s identity as a Bronx girl is less about geographic location than about striving for success.
“Latinos – we do take identity very seriously,” Hernandez said. “We’re a people who are very ambitious, very driven, very educated for the most part. We look at Jennifer Lopez to be an example for us.”
Even Morales, who first blogged about Lopez's body double, said the controversy isn't going to cause permanent damage. Morales, a Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race adjunct professor, said urban culture places a premium on “keeping it real,” but it doesn’t mandate that you stay where you started.
“I don’t think a lot of people have a tremendous respect for her musical accomplishments, aside from having some catchy tunes,” Morales said. “But that doesn’t mean that people don’t respect her as an icon. She does represent a kind of typical Bronx Puerto Rican in many ways – her appearance, her attitude, the way she speaks. That’s going to resonate with people in the Bronx– I don’t think they’re going to think, ‘Oh, look at her, she thinks she’s better than us.’”