By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette
Last week, there was a 25th anniversary showing of the 1997 film biopic Selena, starring Jennifer Lopez as Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla-Pérez. The Missus wanted to see it (and I never had before), so we made our way to the Alamo Drafthouse to see it on the big screen, a “singalong” version with props to participate as though attending a concert.
Yes, I’ve never seen the film before this weekend. Having lived in Texas and remembering the heavy coverage of her death, I certainly knew who she was. But being a dorky white kid back in 1997, I followed the “Special Editions” of Star Wars, and not the Tejano music scene. It’s fair to say I’m still not up to date on that musical genre, but my musical horizons have broadened since then. It’s also fair to say Selena wasn’t “just Tejano,” either.
For those who don’t know about the singer’s life, Selena Quintanilla was a young Texas-born Mexican-American girl who rose to stardom after their father formed his three children into a musical act. The singer, who only knew how to speak English, learned to sing Spanish songs phonetically to appeal to a larger fanbase. And she definitely found her audience as her career continued to grow, earning herself a Grammy in 1994, and starting to cross over into mainstream “Top 40” American music.
The film itself primarily focuses on Selena’s musical career, and her relationships with her family and eventual husband, Chris. The last fourth of the film focuses on her final years, her meeting with Yolanda Saldívar, and the events that led to Quintanilla-Pérez’s murder.
Selena the film was put into production by her father Abraham Quintanilla Jr. just weeks after the singer’s death to partly dispel rumors. Jennifer Lopez was cast as Selena, which was controversial at the time due to Lopez being Puerto Rican and from New York. But Lopez’s portrayal earned her critical praise, as did the solid ensemble cast.
For a first-time watcher, the film was largely upbeat and positive, though the sense of finality pervaded the entire film. Even those who didn’t actively follow Selena’s career know how the story ends, and with the perspective that comes from twenty-five years after the film’s release (and twenty-seven from her death in 1995), there’s a sense of somber realization the 23-year old singer’s life ended just as it was beginning.
From a personal critique, the film’s presentation was heartfelt and more focused on who the singer was, without turning it into a spectacle. The ending was considerate in light of the subject matter being so raw at the time of its release. And the music, though admittedly largely unfamiliar to me, highlighted why it held appeal for her fans. It was clear Selena redefined what Latin music was at the time. There’s a loss in never knowing what more she could have done.
Quintanilla-Pérez’s personal legacy endures, with the same being said for the film’s role in popular culture. On Dec. 14, 2021, Selena was inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
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