There are many ways to approach the second part of Selena: The Series, out on Tuesday, May 4. And a lot of people will be watching—the first installment dominated Netflix charts across the continent and Latinx discourse for weeks.
There’s the lens of Latinx representation. If you’re simply tired of never seeing people with Spanish surnames on screen or only seeing them as drug dealers and maids, well, Selena: The Series delivers. It’s got the family drama and impending tragedy of countless telenovelas. Its soundtrack will pull at your heartstrings. Its heroine is plucky enough to root for. That’s not to say it’s perfect. The wigs might still annoy, the use of a cartoon-like greenscreen is jarring. But for the most part, the bio-pic drama (Selena needs an assistant! She wins a Grammy! Luis Miguel is there! Look, there’s young Beyonce!) is fun and silly. Plus, it’s nice to escape to when Selena Quintanilla was alive with nothing but possibilities in front of her.
Now, if you’re a Selena superfan, part two is not going to do it for you. Christian Serratos does what she can, but she does not have the power and magnetism of Selena and she cannot fake it. The ridiculous butt pads are back and do her no favors. If anything, they emphasize the difference between the full-figured sexiness of the real-life Selena and this shrunken version. The same goes for Serratos’ color, contrasting with Selena’s warm brownness particularly with all that red lipstick. But the biggest error here is the dancing. Just compare the reenactment of the “Amor prohibido” music video with the real thing:
See how Selena moves with power and purpose? How she’s strong and sexy, owning the frame? Serratos is surrounded by the same Joshua Tree landscape, wearing the same things. She even does the same movements. But her arms lack purpose, looking like pretty adornments, fluttering ribbons maybe. Selena’s arms extend with purpose, changing direction with meaning. They don’t feel like weightless decoration. They feel like part of her arsenal.
And it is this lack of force that really damns Selena: The Series. They took an icon known for her power and reduced it. When the first installment came out, feminist fans of the late Tejano icon took particular offense at how the show portrayed her as a dutiful daughter with little sense of self or even interest in her craft.
The second season does work to right those wrongs. It focuses on the adult Selena’s agency and even occasionally critiques machismo. Here we see Selena eloping and running her fashion business, refusing to let her father define her. She advocates for herself with the record execs, composes her own acceptance speech, and manages her career.
You could argue that she trades one patriarch for another, switching from her family home to the one (literally next door) with husband Chris Perez. We actually see her Dad worrying that he’ll be replaced after he hears the news of Selena’s elopement on the radio. But from the moment she tells her family her decision, it’s clear that Selena-the-adult is here. The characters say as much and the change is palpable. She’s calling her own shots now.
The show even teases the male Quintanillas, pulling off a gentle critique of the family’s sexist default. For example, we see brother A.B. call his wife, who’s busy taking care of their two kids alone, to complain about how no one in his family knows how hard he works. She literally can’t hear him and the whole thing plays to comedic effect, ribbing AB for being the out-of-touch macho. In real life, he’s been through several divorces. The man is not a great partner. These touches are nice and perhaps if they’d been in the first part, the initial installment would have gotten more of a pass. But they didn’t and it is probably too little, too late for many critics.
The truth is no show can make everyone happy nor should it try to. Selena: The Series certainly wilts under the pressure of being one of the rare representations of Latinxs (Chicano or otherwise) on screen. It’s a light, silly show and perhaps if it was one of many, that’d be accepted in all corners. But they took one of our rare Latina icons (and I’m using the ‘a’ purposefully here to call out the particular lack of positive Latina women representation) and weakened her instead of building her up. I know that wasn’t her family’s intention but it is the result nonetheless. And it is frustrating.
A writer and activist, Cristina Escobar is the co-founder of latinamedia.co, uplifting Latina and gender non-conforming Latinx perspectives in media. She’s a member of the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association and writes at the intersection of race, gender, and pop culture. You can follow her on Twitter: @cescobarandrade.