Netflix’s Selena Could Have Outshone J.Lo’s Movie. This Is Why It Fails

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
One scene in Selena: The Series — Netflix’s take on the tragic story of Selena Quintanilla, which Jennifer Lopez-starrer Selena canonized in 1997 — is haunting me. Towards the end of The Series’ second episode, “Dame Un Beso,” the show’s alleged protagonist, Selena (Christian Serratos), walks around a Texas fair with her mother Marcella (Seidy Lopez). If Selena wasn’t Selena — someone shoved towards greatness by her father Abraham (Ricardo Chavira) — she would be running around such an event with her classmates on a breezy Saturday night. Selena would be a carefree 15-year-old girl. But Selena isn’t that child. She’s being rushed out of the fair by her family following a high-pressure musical gig. 
“You ever miss that? Just being a teenager? … Instead of working?” Marcella asks her daughter. Selena quickly brushes the questions off with a comprehensive list of perfect answers: “It doesn’t feel like work.” “On the weekends we have shows, which is fine.” “I am happy!” The conversation is promptly discarded, never to be picked up again. 
This side-step is the biggest failure of Selena: The Series. It’s also the heart of the reason you should turn to Selena, the film, if you’re hungry for the tale of the late Selena Quintanilla, the Queen of Tejano and the picture of the American dream.
In the best version of The Series, the discussion between Marcella and teenage Selena wouldn’t be some forgotten chit chat used as connective tissue between two episode set pieces (a performance and Selena’s first time hearing herself on the radio). Those themes — childhood versus fame, family duty versus individual dreams — would be the very bedrock of the show. But, when The Series has the chance to inspect that tension, it turns away and gazes lovingly at Abraham. Earlier in “Beso,” Abe furiously decides to pull Selena out of her Texas high school after a teacher suggests she legally needs to be in class, with other kids her age, to succeed in school. 
“Fine. She’s out. I decide what’s best for my daughter,” Abe fusses, permanently ending Selena’s traditional educational career.
For Abe, what’s “best” is Selena travelling “for the band” all over the country while finishing her high school degree via mail-in schooling. The Series never shows us the moment Abe informs his daughter that her entire world — and single connection to other teens — has been severed. Viewers don’t see Selena’s reaction to this upsetting development at any point in The Series. In the “Beso” scene following Abe’s tantrum, Selena is quietly doing math homework on a couch, seemingly unmoved by this monumental shakeup in her life. Minutes later, 15-year-old Selena counsels A.B. (Gabriel Chavarria), who is eight years her senior, about his own feelings of disappointment around the band.  

Down to its molecules, The Series does not recognize the woman whose name is in the title as its star. 

The Series continues to make this problem over its remaining seven episodes. In the sixth chapter “My Love,” Selena’s record label chooses an unrecognizable photo of the performer for her first album cover. Abe bursts into the office of Selena’s record label president to complain. “[Selena] doesn't even recognize herself!” Abe complains. We wouldn't know, because The Series doesn’t include a single scene of Selena taking in her first-ever album and its cover. The series then doesn’t follow up with Selena to explore her feelings on her lebel’s decision to market her as “exotic” — as Abe learns during his office meltdown — or the fact that she has to accept this racist marketing to avoid the “difficult” label. “Difficult” is the kiss of death for any woman performer, particularly a trailblazing woman of colour like Mexican-American Selena.  
Down to its molecules, The Series does not recognize the woman whose name is in the title as its star. 
Selena the movie never makes this mistake. In the beginning of the film, its version of Abe, played by Oscar-nominee Edward James Olmos, is the anchor of the story because Selena (Lopez as an adult; Rebecca Lee Meza as a child) is only a kid. Still, Selena has a perspective. Little Selena playfully learns cumbia dance moves because she wants to understand a piece of her mother’s (Constance Marie) past. It’s these steps that will one day help make Selena a star. No one forces her into them. 
Then, as she becomes an adult, Lopez’s Selena isn’t afraid to assert her personality. “That’s just it dad — I’m not a little girl anymore,” Selena tells Abe in the first hour of the movie. She means it, taking the lead character mantle away from her dad and running away with it. As she should. In a subsequent scene, Selena proudly tries to use her beauty to find a passerby who will save the Quintanillas’ broken tour bus. Later, she actively pursues eventual husband Chris Pérez (Jon Seda), grilling him on their tour bus and proclaiming her love of whole pizzas on dates. Selena has friends
Selena: The Series had an opportunity to improve upon one specific portion of its beloved cinematic predecessor: allowing Selena to look like the teen she was for much of the time period explored in both projects. While Jennifer Lopez gives a stellar, heartbreaking performance as Selena — and continues to be so youthful she is releasing a hotly awaited skincare line at 51 — she was 27 during filming. Selena Quintanilla did not live past 24. Selena: The Series’ star, Christian Serratos, was 29 when her casting as Selena was announced in 2019. She is now 30. 
Allowing an adult to play someone who was a child for much of their race towards stardom undercuts the debilitating pressure inherent to that journey. You can’t fully grasp the stress of teen Selena’s story when the person playing her looks like an adult, no matter how hard the actress works (and Serratos gives Selena her all).  
Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Christian Serratos as teenage Selena in Selena: The Series.
That’s why you’re not particularly sad for Selena in The Series when she isn’t allowed to gallop around a fair with “fellow” high schoolers in “Beso” — she’s perceived to be a young adult and therefore someone who can reasonably handle the responsibilities in front of her. It’s also why one of The Series’ most emotional scenes lacks punch. In third episode “And the Winner Is…,” Selena’s older sister and bandmate Suzette (32-year-old Noemi Gonzalez) unburdens her insecurities as a musician onto Selena. At first glance it’s a thoughtful conversation between two women about the limitations of talent. But, in the reality of The Series, this is a soul-baring heart-to-heart between a 15 year old and a vulnerable 19 year old about their identities and fears. The Series gives us none of these undertones. For The Series — or any prospective future remake, preferably from a Chicana creator — to truly feel urgent, it requires a teen performer and the tender youthfulness she’ll bring to the screen. 
Selena: The Series was always going to have a difficult time living up to the devastating grandeur of Selena the movie. But, it can’t even hold a light-up flower to it.

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