Netflix’s ‘Selena: The Series’ is reminiscent of the 1997 film

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Netflix recently released Part 1 of “Selena: The Series,” which showcases the rise of late singer Selena Quintanilla (portrayed by Christian Serratos, Rosita on “The Walking Dead”). The series was released during the 25th anniversary year of the singer’s tragic murder and 23 years after the 1997 film “Selena,” with Jennifer Lopez portraying the Grammy-winning singer. While the series covers many topics in the 1997 film, it provides more details on the singer’s early life and career, and presents her music through an interesting approach.

Part 1 takes the audience through the transformation of Selena and her band, and also covers the challenges the singer and her family overcame to reach stardom and success. 

The series begins with father Abraham Quintanilla forming a band with Selena’s older siblings — Suzette on drums and A.B. on bass. Quintanilla soon discovers that his youngest daughter, Selena, is a talented singer, and decides to make her the lead.

Abraham’s ambition to make the band succeed after his own band, “Los Dinos,” failed — along with financial stress experienced by the recession of the 1980s — puts Abraham in a unique situation. Compared to the 1997 film, the series more heavily stresses Abraham’s strict character and personal struggles.

To get their name out, the new band covers iconic pop songs, like “Funkytown,” at various gigs. The band’s growing success leaves them seeking their own sound. A.B. is the band’s songwriter and producer, and writes hits like “Dame Un Beso” and “Como La Flor.

I enjoyed the series’ take on the songwriting process. For instance, the audience learns that some hits were influenced by broken cars and Selena’s experiences. Before the band records and performs new songs, we learn about how that song came to be. As a song develops and prepares for recording, a faint sound of the song in its early stages — such as with A.B. playing the “Baila Esta Cumbia” tune on a toy piano — can be heard in the background, certainly an interesting motif throughout the series.

Additionally, I appreciate the show’s efforts to create a retro vibe, preserving Selena’s essence. Performance scenes — playing on the “Johnny Canales Show,” and the use of old-school camcorders to capture scenes of life on the road — create a nostalgic feel. Costumes worn by Serratos provide a glimpse into the evolution of Selena’s fashion.

Even so, the series feels less like an homage to the singer, more like a pursuit of profit. It feels like an elongated version of the movie with small additions, like a greater interest in Abraham’s character and the songwriting process. Additionally, Jennifer Lopez’s portrayal of the singer is more enjoyable than Christian Serratos’. Another upset of the series: actor Julio Macias’ (“On My Block”’s Spooky) lack of commitment to the role of band member Pete Astudillo. Unlike Serratos, who took dance lessons to bring Selena to life, Macias’ poor dancing dexterity is noticeable. Further, the series has a more corny tone, while the film’s tone is more serious. I am left feeling as if the show is a failed attempt at recreating the life of the singer — something already done appropriately via the heartfelt film. 

The series is reminiscent of the 1997 film, and all in all reminds us that Selena is a cultural icon who broke many barriers, forever transforming music. Quintanilla is a singer gone too soon; her music and legacy, however, live on.

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Rosana is an Arts & Life Contributing Writer and a News Staff Writer from La Puente, CA. She enjoys a good hike and is her dog’s biggest fan. The SoCal native misses playing the alto saxophone and looks forward to someday watching the Dodgers (in-person) win another World Series game. Contact her at rmaris 'at' stanforddaily.com.