“She was so hood. Hollywood couldn’t change her,” said Gina Rodriguez about co-star Jenni Rivera
By Elia Esparza
Now that the shock of Mexican-American Banda Superstar Jenni Rivera’s sudden death has sunk into her fans, a new sadness awaits with the opening of Filly Brown, the late Rivera’s acting debut on the big screen. Her tragic and untimely death sent shockwaves throughout the world. The meteoric news story grabbed headlines over the past month and has generated endless speculation (especially from Spanish media) with reports determined to keep her name in the limelight with all the good, bad, gossip, and upcoming lawsuits. Even celebrity rivals have snatched their chance to ride on the news waves … but that’s another story.
Rivera, who was enjoying a successful run in the reality-TV arena, had a bigger dream planned out for herself and knew exactly how she would push her talent as far as it could go. Acting is something she longed for and when she was approached for a small part in an independent film, Filly Brown, she jumped at the chance– never mind that it was a low-budget with nominal pay.
I saw a newspaper ad promoting Filly Brown, which premieres in April and it’s bittersweet to see her image on the movie poster. I wondered if her image would have appeared in the ad had she not died? Would she have gotten second billing under Gina Rodriguez’s name? Lest we forget, this is Hollywood and it is first and foremost about business and buzz.
But the filmmakers and producers are some of Latinowood’s most influential actors and producers, and directors with corazones de oro… Edward James Olmos (who has a part and is also one of the producers) leads the way. His son Michael D. Olmos co-directs with Youssef Delara who rolled with tenacious grit and authenticity. It is obvious from the passion and work put into making Filly Brown, that Rivera would have gotten her just recognition. It is for certain that the filmmakers were aware of Rivera’s humongous following and casting her made sense. Then she goes and delivers a performance so raw, touching it leaves the camera operators and directors in tears after shooting her scenes.
Last January, the filmmakers and cast (including Rivera) attended the Sundance Film festival to promote their movie. Rivera was radiant almost giddy as she made her way through the exciting maze of Robert Redford’s most famous film fest. No one ever forgets their first time at Sundance. If you’re in the movie business, it is a profound experience.
How did the directors convince the banda diva to sign on? No one in his or her right mind would have ever thought she might say yes. Delara told the LA Times last month, “It was a lot to ask of a woman of her caliber.” But the directors were convinced she could pull if off even with very little acting experience because of the ‘life experience’ in her.
Delara also said, “She’s sort of like the every woman. A lot of women can relate to the fact that she’s not this ingénue. She’s just this woman who went through a lot and was forged by all the terrible things she went through.”
Michael Olmos said in an LA Times interview: “She was so honest and open with her life.” “There was never a wall between her in a professional level and her in a personal level. All her scars were just there, and people can relate to that.”
After a month of rehearsal and working with an acting coach, Rivera was able to transform into a mother in prison (in four difficult and demanding scenes) where she emotes gripping passion derived from her personal experiences. The camera fell madly in love with her. Rivera masterfully delivered her character of Filly Brown’s mother who struggles to maintain a relationship with her girl, an aspiring rapper, from behind bars.
“She was so hood. Hollywood couldn’t change her,” said Gina Rodriguez about co-star Jenni Rivera in a separate interview.
“It’s true: Her modesty, her vulnerability and her candidness was infectious. She was so straightforward and honest that you couldn’t help but want to either be her or be her friend.”
According to Rivera’s family and close associates, she was looking forward to walking down the Red Carpet as a bona fide co-star of an English-language American film. No doubt, her designer would have draped her some spectacular gown that Marilyn Monroe would have drooled over. Rivera’s fans would have crowded the exterior of the movie theater as if it were the Oscars or ALMA Awards! Will they now?
I believe that her fans (mostly Mexicans and Latinos worldwide) will now not merely stand on the sidelines. I believe they will fill those theater seats to pay one last tribute to their beloved banda queen who accomplished her dream to become a movie star. Filly Brown is predicted to be a financial success. Undoubtedly, the deeply felt passing of Rivera will drive box-office and DVD sales.
So, yes, Jenni Rivera impacts the movie in a distinctively positive way.
Are the filmmakers using her tragedy to their advantage? This is Hollywood… and leveraging her fame would have happened even if she had lived. She is a superstar after all and the filmmakers knew exactly what they were doing when deciding to cast her. The bonus was not only that she accepted the role but that she could deliver the fierce emotion required for her scenes. Her chemistry with Gina Rodriguez, a rising star, is another cosmic advantage. But through it all, one cannot ignore the fact that Gina Rodriguez is the star of the movie and has a long career ahead of her. Watch out Zoe Saldana, Michele Rodriguez, Eva Mendez….
Many in the industry, including Edward James Olmos believe Filly Brown was just the beginning of what would have been a brilliant acting career for Rivera– in the same vein of how Barbra Streisand managed her singing and film career simultaneously.
Rivera, 43 and her entourage (Arturo Rivera, Jaboco Yebale, Jorge Armando Sanchez Vasquez and Mario Macias Pacheco) all perished on December 9, 2012 in the predawn hours when the Learjet they were on nose-dived and crashed into a mountain near Iturbide, Mexico.
About the film:
Filly Brown celebrates the power of music and family through the inspiring story of a bold young artist striving to find her voice and seize her dreams without compromise. The outcome is a fierce hip-hop score.
Propelled by an exceptional cast, Filly Brown stars Golden Globe nominee Lou Diamond Phillips, Academy Awards nominee Edward James Olmos, legendary Latin music sensation Jenni Rivera, in her only and final performance, and magnetic breakout star Gina Rodriguez in the electrifying title role. Latin hip-hop pioneers Lisa “Khool-Aid” Rios and Edward “E-Dub” Rios, who also collaborated on the film’s soundtrack.
Filly Brown opens in April 2013.