Review | Selena Silenced in new Netflix series

‘Selena: The Series’ fails to uphold the icon’s legacy

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For me and many others, Selena Quintanilla has always meant more than just a superstar; she will always be an essential representation of the Latinx community. We care about how the world remembers her legacy, and Netflix’s new “Selena: The Series” doesn’t illuminate it the right way. 

The two-part series not only white-washes Selena but also her legacy and who she was as a person. 

The series was first announced in December of 2018 with Selena’s family as executive producers, alongside Rico Martinez and Jaime Dávila. It follows her life from early childhood to her historic career. 

The Tejano icon rose to fame despite being in a male-dominated genre, but in 1995, she tragically passed away after her fan club manager shot her. 

Selena represented us in mainstream media when nobody else did in America, where Latinx people are often portrayed as criminals. She showed everyone that brown girls could be more.

Coming from nothing, she became the first Mexican-American to win the hearts of people on both sides of the border, giving us hope that we can belong to both.

Nothing had ever rung more true to me than when Edward James Olmos, who plays Selena’s father in the 1997 “Selena” film said, “We have to be more American than the Americans and be more Mexican than the Mexicans.” But Selena won people’s hearts in Mexico despite not speaking perfect Spanish.

I grew up admiring her impact in both countries. Today, a collage of Selena’s photos hangs in my living room; her limited-edition vinyl is on my nightstand next to my bed, her MAC cosmetics collection next to the rest of my makeup, and many clothing items emblazoned with her face hang in my closet.

I’ve never been one to be obsessed with celebrities or to put them on a pedestal, but Selena is different. Not only is she of the same descent as me, but she made me believe that being just me was enough to achieve anything — that being Mexican-American with indigenous features and a curvy body was OK.

When many Latinas looked at the screen, we saw ourselves represented for the first time, but this wasn’t the case with the series.

“Selena: The Series” cast Christian Serratos to play Selena, and though she’s an amazing actress, she’s not fit for this specific role. She reinforces and embodies everything Selena didn’t. Serratos is a white-passing Latina with eurocentric features, and she’s very thin.

Selena was considered beautiful in a time where the beauty standard was different than today — known and accepted for her hoops, signature red lips, and naturally curvy body even before that body type became mainstream. 

But it’s not only about whether she looks like the real Selena, it’s whether she embodies everything Selena stands for. In a society where we are used to white-washed Latinx programming, I expected more from Netflix.

The way Serratos portrays Selena is off, and it’s more than simply not nailing down the lip-syncing and performances. The series paints a quiet and low-tone singer who we barely get to see. She’s timid in the background with no real voice or opinions.

How can someone be a sidekick in their own show?

The show models a perfect Mexican daughter. Nodding, smiling, singing, without offering anything more. Obedient as she does what her dad orders her to do, pushing the toxic machismo culture even further.

This was the antithesis of Selena’s character.

She was fierce with a big vibrant personality. She filled the whole room with joy when she shared her striking laugh. Her elegant but down-to-earth energy naturally attracted people towards her. That’s one of the main reasons she’s still so relevant and vital today.

The show doesn’t do her justice, and to go even further, the set, wigs and outfits look very low budget for a series about a superstar known worldwide. 

Selena shared her success and talked about it like it was ours, too. She flew over all the obstacles in a male-dominated industry and entirely made it her own, opening doors for the next generation of women to come. Shakira, Jennifer Lopez, and even Texas native Beyonce —  who in an interview said how much it meant to meet Selena at a mall before she was even “Beyonce” —  all look up to Selena.

I’ve read many negative comments from Latinos telling Latinas to be happy with the representation and stop complaining, and honestly, I am not surprised. Of course they like a series that shows an obedient daughter who was only prominent because of her father. This discredits the mighty and beautiful human that Selena was.

I do think it’s time we recognize the impact of her father, Abraham, and brother, AB Quintanilla. They contributed and were a massive part of her success. But to only focus on them during the entire series and not recognize her own impact on her own craft is completely unacceptable.

Knowing that her family lost a daughter, sister, friend, and loved one, I write this with respect. I want to recognize their grief and resilience. But after years of controlling her image, I think it’s time they let the real Selena shine. The defiant Selena who launched her own boutique, salon, and clothing store. The one Chris Perez, her husband, described in his memoir, “To Selena with love,” as “lively and outgoing.”

Netflix completely fails to uphold the legacy of one of the few popular strong Latina women. In a society where Latinx people rarely get to tell their stories — especially one that transcended borders — getting it right mattered, and they failed us.

Reporter Patsy Montesinos can be reached at pmontes2@chathamnr.com.

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