‘Selena’ honors legacy of Tejano music star

By Marilyn MacLaren, Staff Writer

This week, in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we’ll be taking a look at a film that examines the life, legacy and tragic death of the Queen of Tejano that has idolized her and her work as a musical artist for new generations. 

“Selena” (1997) is a musical biopic about the life of Selena Quintanilla, an up-and-coming Tejano music star who was tragically murdered in her prime. Directed by Gregory Nava, the film stars Jennifer Lopez as the titular character Selena, who puts forth her best efforts in doing the singer justice and portraying the challenges she faced within her family and the music industry. 

The film also stars Jon Seda as Chris Perez, the guitar-playing love interest and eventual husband of Selena, as well as Edward James Olmos as Abraham Quintanilla, the father and band manager of Selena whose strict nature and discipline towards her future in music are touched upon in their relationship.

As a biopic, this film achieves recreating the look and feel of who Selena was and her style of music. The costumes alone are stunningly accurate and portray the creativity and care that went into making the original costumes that were designed and worn by Selena herself, showcasing one of her aspirations to break into the fashion industry. Lopez transforms into Selena not only by how she is dressed, but by the mannerisms she adopts to portray her rhythm and stage presence during her performances.

Born and raised in Texas, the film follows Selena throughout her life from the start of her interest and talent in music to her brutal murder and legacy that continues today. The film does not begin chronologically but rather transitions from her last live performance in the Houston Astrodome to her as a young girl dreaming of becoming a star. 

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As her musical talents are realized by her father, the sudden pressure that is put on Selena as well as her siblings to pursue music makes for an interesting conflict and familial bond that is explored in the film.

The relationships between Abraham and Selena, differing between a father and daughter dynamic as well as manager and artist, show an underlying tension that escalates once guitarist Chris Perez becomes a part of Los Dinos. The romantic relationship between Selena and Chris is viewed as a double threat by Abraham, who is losing his little girl to someone he thinks of as a no-good musician, along with throwing away her future in music wasting her potential. 

Nava is not afraid to show these raw emotional aspects of Selena’s life and the internal conflicts she had with the demands of her family, especially considering how the real-life members of the Quintanilla family might react to their interpretations on screen. 

The influence of Selena as a woman within her genre is a theme highlighted throughout the film, particularly by her father Abraham, whose own history in music taught him the difficulties of staying true to his heritage while also appealing to American culture. Audiences can identify with Selena in seeing her similarly struggle in honoring both identities as she progresses primarily from Tejano music to producing an album for English-speaking audiences.

The story of Selena has recently been adapted into a Netflix original show similarly called “Selena: The Series” (2020). Although the episodic format provides more depth and opportunities to explore her life, the film is able to capture the essence of Selena and the significance of her contribution to the Tejano music industry.


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