In an article about "Selena: The Series," an illustration of Selena singing

‘Selena: The Series’ Provides a Glimpse Into the Life of a Tejano Icon

Though the biographical drama has mixed reviews from fans of the late singer, it is still an important portrayal of the legend's legacy.
June 12, 2021
12 mins read

While some viewers loved Netflix’s “Selena: The Series” and its new portrayal of Selena Quintanilla, others felt the production and script did not do Selena’s story justice.

As with most biographical dramas, exploring the life and works of a beloved historical figure can be difficult to translate into an entertaining watch. While “Selena: The Series” undoubtedly has some flaws and a few missteps, viewers can still enjoy the show for what it excels at rather than getting stuck on some less-than-perfect production details.

Selena and the Quintanillas

Mexican American singer Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, most often referred to as “Selena,” grew up with her family of five in Lake Jackson and Corpus Christi, Texas. Prior to fame, she sang with her brother and sister in a band they called Selena y Los Dinos, which formed in 1981. After a while, they brought other instrumentalists along.

Her big breakthrough in Tejano music began around 1987, when she won female vocalist of the year at the Tejano Music Awards. She continued to win the award for the next nine years. In a typically male-dominated music genre, this was significant.

Following the band’s rise to success and the realization of Selena’s star potential, she became an individual sensation apart from the group. In addition to being known for her fashion designs and opening a boutique, Selena gradually rose to stardom with songs like “Como la Flor” and “No Me Queda Más,” gaining and maintaining popularity on the Latin music charts and even winning a Grammy in 1994.

Even now, Selena is adored as a singer and an icon, especially by Hispanic Americans. Over the past several decades since her death, her music has brought in millions of new fans, including many young people who were born after her murder in 1995.

Shortly after her passing, a biographical drama film titled “Selena” was released in 1997, with a then-unknown Jennifer Lopez starring in the titular role. Over two decades after the film’s release, “Selena: The Series” premiered in 2020. Prior to its release, many life-long Selena fans hoped the show would add deeper insight into the singer’s life.

Balancing Life and Entertainment   

Selena wasn’t the only one struggling to find a life-work balance. “Selena: The Series” also attempts to showcase the perfect blend of Selena’s personal life with her career achievements.

The show is split into two seasons, with each “part” consisting of nine 45-minute episodes. Part 1 of the series focuses on Selena and her family’s struggles to gain popularity and Part 2 highlights Selena’s rise to fame as she becomes a solo musical sensation, her marriage to Chris Pérez, her first and last major musical achievements, and her untimely death.

However, throughout the show’s two seasons, viewers had vastly mixed opinions about the show’s portrayal of the legendary Tejano singer. For example, writer Evita Duffy called the show an “underwhelming and pathetic adaptation of the Queen of Tejano Music’s life,” while long-time fan and critic Marco Torres praised it for being “worth the watch.” He even claimed that the show was responsible for “rekindling [his] love for [Selena] and her music.”

The casting of actress Christian Serratos as Selena seems to be one of the most prominent issues, as she does not match Selena’s likeness as much as fans had hoped. Fans also voiced concerns about the show’s shooting locations, character wardrobe selections, inaccuracies regarding dialects and other details, and the overall focus of the main plot.

Most biographical dramas and tributes to iconic figures do not thrive without some amount of criticism, though, and the team behind the show was well-aware of their responsibility to portray Selena respectfully.

“There was that moment where I thought: ‘Do I want this pressure?’” Serratos said in an interview with The Los Angeles Times. “I knew that getting this was going to be difficult for a slew of reasons. I had to really take such care and have so much respect for everything the fans love and everything that she was to her family.” In addition to serving as executive producers, Selena’s family gave their blessing to the cast and overall production.

“And I knew I was never going to make everybody happy,” Serratos continued. “I knew that because she had that star quality. We all feel a sense of ownership when it comes to Selena — that’s my homie, that’s my family, that’s my sister.”

Though the show may not have put as much effort into the costumes and set design as other Netflix productions, the overall purpose of “Selena: The Series” was to showcase the singer’s history and her success, including other major parts of her life leading up to her death. As far as biographical dramas go, this one was successful in covering many aspects of Selena’s life, such as her love for fashion design and her family relationships.                                                                                                                                           

Too Much Drama?

Following the release of other biographical dramas, viewers tend to complain about false or overly dramatic additional scenes, or parts of the story that were false or negative. However, most of the changes in “Selena: The Series” came down to variance in location or context. In other words, many of the changes made to the show were generally accurate, just not down to the specific details such as the real date of certain events. Rather than adding Quintanilla family drama for entertainment purposes, the show chooses to keep some of it out of the picture.

Many Selena fans were quick to notice that the singer’s relationship history with Pérez in the show lacked depth and accuracy, in accordance with the book Pérez wrote about his time with Selena. Although, it is likely that the reason behind Pérez’s lackluster role in the show is due to how the Quintanilla family feels about him, which is not exactly positive.

When asked about his portrayal and exclusion from the show, Pérez told The New York Post, “You can line us all up, the guys in the band and the members of her family, and ask us to tell the full story of all the things we experienced together. It’d be the same story but told from a bunch of different perspectives. And [this show] is their perspective.”

Although it may not be everything the fans hoped for, the show does its best to go through Selena’s timeline and bring her heritage and accomplishments to the screen. In today’s streaming environment, this should still be considered a great feat; despite Hispanics being the largest ethnic minority group in the U.S., they are one of the least represented minority groups in television by percentage.

Additionally, Selena’s ambitions and achievements are enough to inspire those who are new to her story. When discussing how viewers should approach this show, Torres said it best: “My advice is to be open-minded, and don’t sweat the small inaccuracies. We have the luxury of knowing how this story ends, and although her death will always be a tragedy, this series provides Selena fans a beautiful glimpse into her world as we continue to celebrate her life and legacy.”

The Selena Legacy

By the end of the show, “Selena: The Series” manages to provide enough poignant moments from Selena’s life to give viewers some insight into what makes her such a large Tejano icon. The show’s exhibition of Selena and her family’s struggle to embrace their entire identity as artists, and more importantly, to be recognized as both Mexican and American, can still resonate with audiences just as much as it did when Selena was alive.

The stories behind the songs and person who sang them originally, regardless of who sings them on the show, are enough to keep Selena’s greatness in our memories. Perhaps it’s best for viewers of the show, old fans and those newly acquainted with Selena, to simply enjoy the series for what it is: a celebration of the legendary Tejano singer and her life.

Alexandra Cortez, Trinity University

Writer Profile

Alexandra Cortez

Trinity University
English and Communication

As an English and communication major, Alexandra is passionate about all things reading, writing and social media. In her free time, she enjoys writing fiction stories and watching her favorite Disney films.

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