Jennifer Lopez and Arianna Huffington

On Monday night, Jennifer Lopez, who stars in the new film “Second Act,” attended an advance, special screening of the movie at the Metrograph theater in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Lopez, along with her longtime collaborator, producer Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Arianna Huffington and Stacy L. Smith, got together at the end of the movie for a panel hosted by Desiree Gruber, in which they discussed diversity in film, their personal experiences with one another and what motivates them.

In order to appeal to audiences today, moviemakers must attach some kind of movement or greater meaning to the films they hope will do well financially at the box office. At face value, “Second Act” — a movie about Lopez fibbing her way into a corporate job after being passed over for lacking college credentials at a previous gig — is a rom-com with a marquee star. It’s not supposed to contain intellectual pursuits, nor be a source of greater commentary upon our cultural landscape. But in Goldsmith-Thomas’ eyes, it does and is.

“Jennifer and I went together to the studios and pitched this movie, and told them how important of a message this would be,” she said during the panel. “There’s still a glass ceiling, and we know it. It’s insidious, ageist and racist. This is about all of us unlocking the straitjackets in our minds.”

New York Special Screening of "Second Act" Jennifer Lopez

From left: Desiree Gruber, Jennifer Lopez, Arianna Huffington, Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas and Dr. Stacy L. Smith.  Kristina Bumphrey/StarPix

For her part, Lopez recalled a time when her first single and album had just come out, back in the late Nineties. They moved quickly to number-one spots on the charts, prompting listeners to meet her success with backlash.

“People said, ‘She can’t act, she can’t dance, she can’t sing,’” Lopez said. “You asked me what I did. Despite the hurt and pain, I kept going. I couldn’t let that become who I was. I just started working harder than everybody else. I started believing in myself, that I wasn’t an imposter, that I wasn’t a fake. But it took time.”

To describe the plot of the film and its characters’ capacities, panel participants used the word “limitless,” (which is also the name of J. Lo’s accompanying single for the film), many times. Lopez said it applied to her real life. She stated she could have very easily lived a regular life in her hometown of the Bronx, and had the option of becoming a bank teller.

“Citibank was down the block from my house, and I always thought, ‘Maybe I’ll work at the bank,’” she said. “[On the train,] I always felt like this little girl with her nose pressed up against the glass, looking at the Emerald City. All this stuff that was out there. But the Bronx seemed so small. That was going to be my whole life. At a certain point, I just got on the train and started exploring the city.”

Jennifer Lopez at the New York Special Screening of "Second Act."

Jennifer Lopez at the New York Special Screening of “Second Act.”  Kristina Bumphrey/StarPix

About 20 minutes before the panel wrapped up, Lopez’s boyfriend Alex Rodriguez slinked into the theater and took a seat by the door. “Thank you for coming,” Lopez chided. As he is wont to do, Rodriguez pulled out his phone and dutifully took photos and videos of the singer for practically the remainder of the event.

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