Disguised as a wholesome family affair, “Selena: The Series” employs superstar Selena Quintanilla (Christian Serratos) to a supporting role.
Netflix billed the show as “the official story of [the] Tejano music legend” and a “coming of age story following Selena as her dreams come true.” Unfortunately, the television adaptation smears a layer of mayonnaise over Selena’s legacy— muting her identity, agency and star power.
“I can’t do this,” are the first words out of Selena’s mouth. “I’m not doing this without you guys,” she says, admitting to her siblings her reservations about moving on as a solo artist. Fair enough. All this started when father Abraham Quintanilla (Ricardo Chavira) assembled his offspring into a band, with brother A.B. (Gabriel Chavarria) on bass and sister Suzette (Noemi Gonzalez) on drums. This could have been an establishing moment for viewers to understand the impressive trajectory of Selena’s success. Instead, it lays the foundation to perceive the Queen of Tejano’s achievements as only made possible by the men around her.
Part one of “Selena: The Series” picks up in the Quintanilla family timeline where the 1997 movie “Selena” skips over. We get to witness Selena’s teenage years, the development of the band and the family’s extensive amount of pre-fame touring. In fact, the series does a decent job at showing how hard it actually is to make substantial money as an artist. Financial anxiety strains the family and only begins to ease up when Selena’s sophomore album, “Ven Conmigo,” goes gold. Such an accomplishment comes in episode 8. Part one then officially closes with the inception of the infamous “Como La Flor” and the firing of guitarist Chris Perez (Selena’s future husband).
Netflix’s adaptation of Selena’s life story comes in the same year that honored the 25th anniversary of her murder and posthumous album “Dreaming of You.” Her first English album reached number one on Billboard Top 200, with the titular single peaking at number 22 on the Hot 100 charts. Before her death, she won a Grammy in 1993 and multiple Tejano Music Awards. Selena may have been on the precipice of world stardom when she died, but by 1995, she was already an icon.
For The Cut, journalist Caitlin Cruz, who is Mexican-American, captured the greater significance of Selena’s cultural impact: “Her voice made me feel like maybe Nebraska could be home, if only in that room that I’d painted her (our) favorite shade of purple… Those moments [in my room] were a reprieve in my quest to fit into a white world I didn’t fully belong.” A pop star who deserves a pedestal, oversimplification plagues Serratos’ Selena. She is more show pony than dimensional human.
Indeed, a father’s role is to guide his children into becoming good people. It’s what Abraham does by pushing his kids into the music industry. Unfortunately, he is incapable of ever really enjoying any success. The Quintanilla patriarch is greedily ambitious. However, because the show focuses so much on Abraham (and A.B.), he is glorified as a disciplined, god-like mentor, shepherding his kids to the American Dream. What’s more, the genius of A.B. as a songwriter and producer, though warranted, far exceeds that of his sister (also warranted, but not given). Much of the plot centers on the pressure on A.B. to write hit songs.
It’s not like the show creators couldn’t better flesh out Selena as a dynamic character. What couldn’t have been found on the internet could certainly have been found in the journal entries the Quintanillas shared with the show developers. Only when Chris comes in the picture do we actually learn a bit more about Selena, like that she’s interested enough in fashion to create her own line. As pointed out by journalist and Selena expert Maria Garcia, “we hardly see her. She’s kind of quiet, her smile a bit meek, usually in the background.”
So how did this happen, especially with the family involved? Therein lies the problem. Abraham Quintanilla is renowned not only for his strictness (well-documented in the film and show), but his control of Selena’s legacy. Billboard extensively documented his history of lawsuits, noting the time when he had Perez sign away ownership of Selena’s image in the wake of her death.
December 2020 has turned out to be a particularly important time to relish in entertainment that warms our souls. We need the kind of escapism that fosters optimism, the kind you get watching a tight-knit family achieve the American Dream in the name of the power of music. If only this tale were genuine. Mirroring our catastrophe of a year, “Selena: The Series” failed a legend most deserving of having her story authentically told.
To better understand Selena, keep your eye out for Maria Garcia’s podcast, “Anything for Selena,” coming January 2021. For a deeper dive into “Selena: The Series” criticism, follow Locatora Radio for their next episode about the show.