Selena: The Series Fails to Tell a Nuanced Story

selena performing on stage
Photo Credit: Netflix

In an industry where the Latinx community is overly underrepresented, the latest Latinx centric show, Selena: The Series is long anticipated. Part one containing nine episodes, will be streaming on Netflix starting December 4th. The much expected series portraying the life of the Mexican-American singer Selena Quintanilla tells her story from her humbling beginnings to her successful stardom and will appeal to longtime fans while introducing newer generations to the queen of Tejano music.

Selena the Netflix series’s extensive run time is the perfect opportunity to incorporate extra content potentially depicting never before known occurrences due to the family’s involvement with Suzette Quintanilla, Selena’s older sister, as executive producer.

The series opens with a scene from a 1994 concert in Chicago, one of Selena’s last shows, reminding the audience of the magnitude of her success. Episode one looks into the origins of the “Selena y los Dinos” musical band consisting of siblings Selena, Suzette, and A.B. Quintanilla. The band is formed by their father, Abraham Quintanilla, soon after eight year old Selena, remarkably portrayed by Madison Taylor Baez, displays her talents. Baez is prevalent throughout the first episode and her performance is the most memorable from part one of the series. Effortlessly conveying an innocent and joyous young Selena, the singing capabilities that Baez brings to the table elevates her performance to another level.

Every musical group’s beginnings differ but what sets this particular story apart is the family aspect and their Mexican-American cultural background. Selena’s Mexican-American identity is one angle many Latinx viewers will relate to. According to the Pew Research Center, over 60% of Latinos in the U.S are of Mexican origins, so seeing their experiences represented in the series brings important representation. Selena exploring her bicultural identity will also transport viewers to some familiar experiences. For instance the constant struggle of having to choose one identity over the other (Mexican or American) to appeal to certain demographics. Also, being forced into stereotypes, for instance being labeled “exotic,” simply because of our complexions. Selena’s father’s analogy entirely captures the Mexican-American experience when he says, “We’re like a tree with the roots over there and we’re growing here, both countries, Selena, come together in you.”

Sadly, this first part of the series missed an opportunity to tell a nuanced story about one of the most beloved Latina musicians of all time. It heavily suffers with the writing causing various scenes to completely fall flat with cringey, eye-rolling inducing dialogue. Its generic cookie cutter feel will frustrate many viewers, particularly those eager to see Latinx representation. Some sequences hit you over the head with cheesy motivational lines that completely ruin any possible emotional impact. For example, Abraham sits next to A.B. to encourage him to write their songs by comparing him to the popular songwriter Luis Silva “…Is he a man? you’re a man…He has a brain, you have a brain. You’re a musician, so write a song.” While it was amusing to discover A.B.’s evolution to becoming a songwriter, the story is partially ruined by comical motivational dialogue.

The most disappointing element of Selena: The Series is Christian Serratos’s interpretation of Selena. Serratos, who plays Selena in the Netflix series, delivers a bland, uninspiring, forgettable performance that is entirely lacking Selena’s essence, charisma, and bubbly personality. Sorretos’s Performance leaves the series feeling like another simple common music biopic. As a romantic enthusiast, I was especially anticipating Selena and her husband Chris Pérez’s love story which sadly is one of the most disappointing storylines in the series (for now). The chemistry between Serratos and Jesse Posey, who plays Chris, is nonexistent and their romantic affection development is cringey to view. This love story is at its worst when songs (from soundtrack) are played as narrative.

Netflix series shows provide a great amount of creative freedom, so it is even more upsetting that the show’s creators missed the mark with this project. However, it doesn’t escape me that this end product is possibly due to Selena’s family’s direct involvement. Perhaps because of this involvement, A.B. and Suzette, two members of the family who are often overlooked in other stories about the family, receive their deserving spotlight acknowledging their responsibilities and valuable contribution to “Selena y Los Dinos.”

One of the memorable scenes is with Suzette, involving a fan who aspires to be a drummer. Assuming the fan wanted Selena’s autograph, Suzette instinctively directed her to the van where Selena was, but was startled when the fan was actually looking for her. The scene ends with a symbolic gesture with Suzette handing the fan her drumsticks. A moving scene spotlighting the importance of representation, particularly of female musicians. Also, Suzette’s storyline involving a romantic interest was one of the few nuanced scenarios I pleasantly liked.

two characters from Selena: The Series on Netflix(Photo Credit: Netflix)

Overall, Selena: The Series misses the target of telling a compelling and nuanced story by instead delivering a generic musician’s journey to stardom. While the series contains some great facts about Selena Quintanilla, Queen of Tejano, unfortunately, these glimmers in the storytelling are overshadowed by frustratingly poor dialogue. Hopefully part two will conclude the series on a higher note by featuring the backstory to Selena’s well-known mainstream songs plus a deeper view and incorporation of Yolanda Saldivar, the woman who murdered the Tejano star.

Selena: The Series will arrive on Netflix Friday, December 4.

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