Hell hath no fury like Selena Quintanilla’s fans. Days after Netflix premiered Selena: The Series (2020), there were scornful reviews and fan critiques flooding the internet. Although the series was based in part on Selena’s journal entries, many have found the series to peripheralize the icon, compared to the family dynamic at large.
For many of us who identify as superfans, Selena is an icon in her own right and a formative part of the Mexican American and Chicanx experience. As the daughter of a single mother, I could not afford Selena’s concert tickets or her limited-edition doll, but part of the dream of finding success as a first-generation Chicana woman, would mean that I would ultimately attend one of her concerts as an adult, travel to her boutique and salon in Texas, and attend her world tour, following what I could only image to be a successful crossover album. As a child, Selena’s death was my very first heartbreak and the first time I mourned the death of a Brown woman I idolized.
Selena’s father, Abraham Quintanilla (executive producer), holds a stronghold over the singer’s estate. Despite the singer’s growing popularity, makeup deals, and statues (postmortem), Selena’s father still reigns over the singer’s image. Part of Selena’s life remains unknown or told by the men in her life. Given Selena’s large fan base in Texas, it is unsurprising that the series reveals more of Selena’s childhood but from a conservative angle, such as her experience being raised in a congregation (the Quintanilla family are Jehovah Witnesses) and the strict rules held by her father. Relatedly, homophobia has plagued Selena’s convicted murder, Yolanda Saldivar. The sanctifying of Selena by the Latinx community has made it taboo to even question the relationship between Selena and Saldivar, although the questioning of Saldivar’s sexuality was part of the murder trial. In fact, prolific Queer Chicana author, Cherrie Moraga, and Chicana author, Sandra Cisneros, have problematized aspects of the singer’s life and been heavily scrutinized by fans. Despite how far we have come, Selena’s life continues to be told from a conservative heteronormative lens and Selena: The Series, is no exception.
However, compared to Selena (1997) the biopic, the Netflix series offers an important look at Selena’s collective and family dynamics. The series highlights the experience of Selena’s sister, Suzette Quintanilla (Noemí González), as a child drummer in a male-dominated genre, along with her struggles to meet the expectations of the patriarch of the family. In one scene, a young female fan embraces Suzette, who has inspired her to become a drummer.
Similarly, Selena’s mother, Marcella Quintanilla (Seidy López), plays an important role in the series, brokering between her children’s needs and the rigorous demands set by their father. Marcella, although still in a peripheral role, is seen advocating for Selena’s health and safety in the series. Although still portrayed as a subdued woman, Marcella is a reminder of the many matriarchs in Mexican American families, who are often depicted as “behind the scenes” but whose salient roles allow for family systems to function—the abuelas, tías, and niñas, that hold everything together.
In addition to the women that are part of Selena’s intimate circle, Episode 3 pays homage to a trailblazer and Tejano icon, Laura Canales. Revealing a window into Selena’s character, she is seen thanking Canales “for going first” in the Tejano music scene,and proceeds to ask for career advice. Like many of us who pay homage to the women who came before us, Selena’s character later goes on to describe the conversation to Suzette as “oh you know, just la reina stuff.”
Important critiques point to the fact that Selena’s character, played by Christian Serratos, fails to embody Selena’s curvaceous figure. Selena’s fuller figure preceded the Body-Positive Movement by several decades, which was just one of the many ways Selena broke barriers. For many Latinx people, watching Selena was the first time a Brown woman adorned her body with glittery bustiers and metallics, while unapologetically taking center stage. It is telling of the body-policing culture that Serrato’s thinner frame was immediately noticed and compared to Jennifer Lopez, who starred in the Selena biopic. But Selena, who died at the young age of 23, may have had a much more complicated relationship with her body than most fans are willing to admit. In an interview on Christina Saralegui’s talk show, Selena once admitted she did not see herself as sexy.
Since her death, Selena’s relationship with Mexican plastic surgeon, Ricardo Martinez, has raised much speculation. To be certain, the casting of thin actors is part of a larger culture of fatphobia and thin-privilege in media representation at large, and not unique to the series.
Selena: The Series should not be dismissed, although no body of work can possibly reveal all the complexities of who Selena was and could have been. As a family-friendly (rated PG) series, it is bound to raise important conversations for families, but audiences should also consider discussing the complex aspects of Selena’s life that have been left untold, as this is likely to inspire important conversations too. Certainly, the series is not a tale of a self-made woman, but none of us really are.
Michelle Rascon-Canales is a PhD Student of Sociocultural Anthropology at the University of Arizona’s School of Anthropology. Twitter @CanalesRascon.