Tejano music queen Selena Quintanilla-Pérez’s tragically short life was dramatized in the 1997 movie “Selena,” starring Jennifer Lopez in the title role and Edward James Olmos as her father and manager, Abraham Quintanilla.
More than 20 years later, a new generation of fans might either discover her story or uncover new insights into her pioneering career in Netflix’s “Selena: The Series.” Part 1 of the show premieres Friday.
HuffPost reporters Marina Fang and Erin E. Evans transported themselves back to the ’80s and chatted about the nine episodes of this first part.
The Bottom Line
The series allows for deeper character development and shows how scrappy the Quintanilla family was. But it lacks the sparkle of the iconic movie and never quite captures exactly what made Selena an icon.
Cast And Characters
Marina Fang: So, for anyone not familiar with Selena’s story, a lot of it centers on her family and how much work they put into building her career. Her two siblings, A.B. and Suzette, played in her band. A.B. also was one of her songwriters, and Suzette helped shape Selena’s style and was generally kind of a jack-of-all-trades. Their supportive but at times domineering and micromanaging dad, Abraham, managed her career and the band, and was really the engine behind everything.
Erin, what did you think of the cast and how they brought out the Quintanilla family’s dynamics on the show?
Erin Evans: OK, I have a lot of thoughts! Generally, the cast was fine. I loved Suzette (Noemi Gonzales) and A.B. (Gabriel Chavarria). The character development for both of them was great, and we really got to see more of their lives. But there were some sore spots for me for sure. Ricardo Chavirra’s performance as Abraham Quintanilla was a little overwrought for me, but I know it’s pretty hard to live up to the standard that Edward James Olmos set for the feature film, “Selena.” Plus, I think Mr. Quintanilla was actually just a stern, straightforward man IRL. I absolutely love that they got Seidy López to portray the matriarch, Marcella. If you remember, López played Selena’s friend who shopped for that dress for the Grammys in the 1997 film.
Oh, God. I forgot to talk about the star! Which, honestly, is probably my biggest problem with the show. I couldn’t connect with Christian Serratos as Selena. I didn’t feel like I got any depth from her, and it felt like so much of the show focused on the periphery of her life.
The Series vs. The Movie
MF: I loved Suzette, too, and would 100% watch a whole show about her! I did like that one of the advantages of this being a series is that you get a lot more fleshed-out storylines about her family. You get a deep sense of how much they dedicated themselves to her career — sometimes having to put aside their own hopes and dreams.
Ah, the movie. I was really trying not to think about it while watching this series, and just evaluate this on its own terms. I haven’t seen the movie in a couple of years, so it wasn’t fresh in my mind. But it’s such an iconic part of ’90s pop culture and means a lot to so many people. It accelerated J. Lo’s movie career and really cemented Olmos’s status as a legend. They’re two hugely memorable performances and two very big pairs of shoes to fill. So, yeah, it’s hard not to watch this show with the movie in mind. I suppose if you haven’t seen the movie, this series might land better for you.
Erin, did you also have trouble not thinking about the movie while watching this?
EE: Definitely. Every little moment — hearing Selena’s laugh, watching them give Chris a makeover, Suzette not wanting to play the drums, that “big, beautiful, redesigned bus” — reminded me of the film. It was nice to see more fleshed-out storylines of the long road it took them to get a record deal and to make a name for Selena y Los Dinos in the Tejano music scene. The series really digs its heels into Selena’s identity as a Mexican American, too. So I definitely thought the series did a good job of showing how much she was into pop music and how much she had to learn about singing in Spanish. The film touches on it, but the series definitely goes deeper there.
What were some of the high points of the series for you?
Highs And Lows
MF: Agreed, that theme was definitely one of the high points. There’s a line in the movie, when her dad tells her she’s always going to have to prove how Mexican she is and how American she is — that whole idea of not being “Mexican enough” or “American enough.” The series gets much more into detail on how that plays out in the music industry and how she had to figure out how to fit her image to her fans on both sides of the border. She also has to fight a lot of battles with her record label and gets boxed in for marketing reasons. It really sucks, but it does give us this funny scene of her learning to speak Spanish by watching telenovelas.
The series also gave me a greater appreciation for just how hard-won her success was. She and her family did pretty much everything on their own, like building a set of lights out of empty peach cans. There’s a great scene in which she buys a Bedazzler to design her costumes (side note: so much fabulous ’80s hair and clothes in this show!). And I also liked seeing her effect on her young Latina fans in helping them see themselves.
EE: Yes! One of my favorite parts — I even teared up a bit — is when a young girl tells Suzette how much she loves her and that she also wants to one day be a drummer in a band. We also get to see how much Chris and Selena hid their relationship. I did keep reminding myself that this is only Part 1 of the series. I grew up in Texas and remember when Selena died and it being big news. I had to learn “Como la Flor” in Spanish class. I still remember the chorus and first verse, so I kept waiting to hear it. The series did a great job of introducing people to some of Selena y Los Dinos’ earlier hits — and the hard work that A.B. put in to write them. I did love that we got to see more of the band. I didn’t realize how much Pete Astudillo was integrated into their early days. And I loooove that they cast “On My Block” hottie Oscar Diaz in that role.
MF: Yeah, you make a good point that this is just Part 1. Without spoiling it for anyone who doesn’t know (though “spoiler” is questionable, given that this is based on real life), the last episode sets up Part 2. I’m not sure how it’ll sustain itself — I was definitely a little less engaged by the end of this first part.
So, Should You Watch It?
MF: If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s definitely worth giving this series a try. If you have, there are some worthy qualities, but it lacks the overall magnetism of the movie and runs out of steam toward the end.
EE: If you like TV-movie-style series, give it a whirl. But you may be disappointed that it doesn’t go much deeper into what personally drives Selena to become the Tejano music queen.
“Selena: The Series” premieres Friday on Netflix.