Like most Mexican American women, I grew up idolizing Selena Quintanilla-Perez, always singing along and dancing around my grandparents’ house to her music—to this day, you can still catch me in my kitchen doing the “washing machine” while singing along to “La Carcacha” and reveling in the power that was Selena’s voice. It’s because of this that I often feel so protective of her and the way her story gets told. So much of who I am is because of Selena’s confidence, the way she was so unapologetically passionate and perfectionistic with all her performances and creative endeavors.
When I first heard Netflix was making Selena: The Series (and that it was backed by the Quintanilla family), I wondered what else they could tell about her story that we didn’t already see in the 1997 biopic starring Jennifer Lopez. When I saw the trailer, I worried it wouldn’t do her justice—the costumes and performance numbers looked a bit too much like a parody. Though my initial skepticism of the performances and looks rang true, part one of Selena: The Series did give some nuance to Selena’s story, including the troubles the Quintanilla family—Abraham (Ricardo Antonio Chavira), Marcella (Seidy López), A.B. (Gabriel Chavarria), and Suzette (Noemí González)—had to face and the work they had to put in before Selena (played by Christian Serratos) rose to stardom. The series begins with her early days singing with her siblings (Los Dinos) at their family restaurant, weddings, and eventually bigger venues, which leads to Selena y Los Dinos getting a record deal and being forced to meet strenuous album deadlines.
The first nine episodes of the series take us through the ranks of the family applying for and using food stamps, living with relatives when they lose their home and are out of work, and persevering through adversity, rejection, and the tribulations of everyday life, such as love. Moreover, they explore Selena’s struggle of not knowing Spanish or how to navigate both her Mexican and American identities, something that was not explored to the same extent in the film. Though Selena predominantly sang in Spanish, she wasn’t a fluent Spanish speaker and often struggled to speak it in interviews—the series shows that through her music and dancing, she was able to feel more connected to this side of herself.
But this nuance is missing in all other aspects of the series, including in the cast, choreography, makeup, and costumes—the latter three being especially important in capturing the essence and soul of Selena y Los Dinos.
While the cast is made up of entirely Latinx actors, they are whiter than both the Quintanilla family and the cast of the film, pointing to a larger conversation of colorism in Latinx casting. Additionally, Serratos’s performance of Selena often fell flat. Though she did manage to capture some of her wide-eyed hopefulness and passion, she failed to personify her overall essence and starpower—something Selena never lacked, especially when she performed. Selena was known (and still is known) for her electric performances, and Serratos’s dancing and botched lip synching did not deliver. Each episode contains several performances throughout, and all of them felt like a parody, with Serratos looking more like she was doing an impression than attempting to embody Selena’s moves.
Some of this may have to do with the low-budget costumes and wigs that adorned the cast. Selena y Los Dinos had very vibrant and flamboyant outfits and Selena had many hairstyles throughout her years, all of which are greatly remembered and adored by fans. The styling in the series didn’t attempt to match this energy in the slightest (though by the end of part one, the costumes do seem to get better).
Selena: The Series enters a small catalogue of Netflix originals by and for Mexican and Mexican Americans, and though I can attest that representation is important, the series proves that we are so past the need for representation for mere representation’s sake, including when it’s about our icons.
Part one of the series attempts to capture the early days of Selena’s artistry, but by failing to bring full nuance in all areas of production, it feels like just another way of monetizing her story without truly understanding or engaging with the impact she left on millions of individuals like me. v