Netflix has released the first season of “Selena: The Series,” a new show about the life of Selena Quintanilla, the “Queen of Tejano Music” and a beloved Mexican American recording artist. Selena was immortalized after she was murdered in 1995 by the president of her fan club when she was only 23 years old.
The superstar’s life and career were cut tragically short right as she was breaking out to a national audience. She had just released her first English crossover album, which debuted as the first predominantly Spanish-language album to reach the top U.S. Billboard 200.
In 1997, Jennifer Lopez was famously cast as Selena in the much-anticipated film documenting the late singer’s life. The film not only cemented Selena’s status as an American Latina icon, but it also launched J. Lo’s career.
The film “Selena” was a huge success, and its cult following has much to do with why Selena is still loved and admired today by not just a new generation of Hispanics, but also by Anglos, blacks, and gays, who refer to her simply as “the Queen.” The movie was executed beautifully, with warmth and humor, and grounded by the beloved Academy Award-winning Edward James Olmos who played Selena’s father.
Unfortunately, Netflix hardly took the care director Gregory Nava took with his tragically slain heroine. It’s pretty clear that Netflix was more interested in making money off adoring Selena fans than honoring her with a series that gave justice to her life and inspirational American dream story.
The first problem with the series is that the crucial role of Selena was poorly cast. To make matters worse the acting is cringy, and the story was terribly executed.
Me, precisely 11 minutes and 22 seconds into this Selena series on Netflix. pic.twitter.com/y5IcKotC7a
— FOBBY VALENTINO (@ChicoFontaine69) December 5, 2020
Selena will go down in history as one of the greatest Latina voices of all time, but her rise to stardom was quintessentially American. She added talent to hard work, a few good breaks, and the belief that in America, you could make it.
Selena was the youngest of three children. When she was eight, her father, Abraham, started a family band: “Selena Y Los Dinos.” The Quintanillas hit tough times during the recession in the early 1980s. Their family restaurant went under and they even lost their house.
Working odd, low-paying jobs, Abraham struggled to support his family. Finally, Abraham moved his family into his brother Eddie’s trailer and later into his other brother Hector’s small house. The family lived in a spare room in Hector’s house for a year, where the children slept on the floor, and all five of them shared one bathroom.
Like so many Hispanics, Abraham was a proud small business owner. When he fell on hard times and lost the restaurant, Selena’s sister Suzette recalled their dad only taking them to the grocery store “really, really late at night so no one could see that we were on food stamps.”
The family stayed strong together in these tough times and focused on their music, which increasingly became their primary source of income. Selena and her siblings didn’t have much of a childhood, and spent most of their time performing at bars, restaurants, weddings, fairs, and many other places.
Her big breakthrough happened in 1986, when she won female vocalist of the year at the Tejano Music Awards. From then on she soared into stardom, crushing the Latin Music charts and even winning a Grammy and a lucrative Coca-Cola deal.
How much time did the Netflix series dedicate to Selena’s early rise to fame and arguably the most compelling part of her story? One episode — that’s it! The first episode spans from her birth all the way up to her early teen years.
The Netflix series hardly even mentioned that Selena’s father was in a band himself growing up. This is key because it was Abraham’s ambition that is widely considered to be the reason he pushed his children so hard. He was living vicariously through his kids as they fulfilled the music dreams he was never able to live out himself.
In fact, Abraham named their band after his own band, “Los Dinos,” which he quit after its popularity faded. It would be impossible to understand Abraham’s passion or even occasional harshness if they did not know his past. In the Netflix series, Abraham’s actions make no sense because of this failure. It was almost like the Netflix version was using the J. Lo movie as a crutch, just assuming viewers already knew Abraham and understood his motivation.
If the J. Lo film was able to capture the connection between Selena Y Los Dinos and Abraham’s Los Dinos in a two-hour movie, there’s no excuse for why Netflix’s “Selena” couldn’t do it in nine episodes. In fact, we only learn of Abraham’s past music career in a passing reference. Yet Abraham’s love of music and music career was the true beginning of Selena’s story.
Not only deprived of adequate background, which one would expect from a series version of the story, but viewers hardly learn much about Selena herself. The episodes seem to focus on everyone around Selena, rather than Selena. As Joshua Rivera of The Verge says, the series is “barely interested in Selena,” adding, “she’s mostly shown as cherubic: smiling, singing, and ultimately not saying very much.”
I’d take it a step further and say Netflix portrays Selena as an airhead. One scene in particular really bothered me: She is at the recording studio with her brother, A.B., who accuses her of not taking her music seriously after Selena complains she wants to go to the fabric store. “It would be great if you thought the music mattered as much as your looks,” says A.B.
It is true that Selena was a fashionista who designed her own stage outfits and eventually released a fashion line. However, no one ever questioned how much she loved singing or how deeply committed she was to her career. Netflix Selena spends all her time dying her hair and making sparkly outfits, and this ultimately insults her accomplishments and memory.
If you believe Netflix’s version of events, you would have to believe that a girl so disinterested in her music would be annoyed with the constant traveling and being forced to quit high school for her music career. Wrong. The series explores zero internal conflict or depth in Selena’s character. She simply portrayed as a pleasantly, uncomplicated girl who sings when she’s told and enjoys applying lipstick.
Then of course we have the actress. Selena is portrayed by the “Walking Dead” Italian/Mexican American actress Christian Serratos. Aside from looking nothing like the real Selena, Serratos, who is not a singer or a dancer, painfully struggles to imitate the real Selena’s incredible stage presence. Serratos appears awkward and her dancing leaves so much to be desired.
Again, casting matters. J. Lo was a singer, dancer, and natural performer and seemed to inhabit Selena as an artist with ease. Not so with Serratos.
If you want to see the real Selena performing, here she is at her last concert before she was murdered where she delivered a record-breaking, sold-out show in the Houston Astrodome.
The internet was also less than pleased with Serratos’ fake rear end, another asset the curvaceous J. Lo needed no help with. Serratos just looked odd and awkward with her obviously fake behind. Was it really that hard for Netflix to find a naturally curvy Latina actress?
just started the selena series on netflix… . .. who is this size 00 white woman pic.twitter.com/1Twt3uhKvE
— duʿā bint lipa (@afroelven) December 6, 2020
Another indication that the series had a total lack of detail and effort was that Selena would famously sing so close to her microphone that it would be stained red from her lipstick. This didn’t happen in the Netflix version.
To this day, Selena is adored, especially by Hispanic Americans. Her timeless music has garnered her millions of new fans well after her death, including myself. Selena lovers will undoubtedly be disappointed by this underwhelming and pathetic adaptation of the Queen of Tejano Music’s life.
If you didn’t already know or love Selena, there’s no way you would get through the first episode, let alone the season. And Netflix does little to enhance the viewers’ understanding of what a powerful influence she was and is and her incredible journey from rags to riches. If you want to learn about Selena, watch the J. Lo 1997 film. That is exactly what I will be doing to detox from this Netflix disaster.
I also suggest that Netflix stop assuming Hispanic Americans will love the series just because they love Selena. Instead, put some real time and effort into researching the artist, carefully picking the cast, and creating a good script, because we all know they have the budget to do it right.
Since you won’t get it in the Netflix series, here are some iconic performances from Selena: