Even 25 years after her death, the life and musical legacy of the Grammy-winning Tejana singer Selena Quintanilla remains influential and relevant. A widely anticipated Netflix show “Selena: The Netflix Series,” which premieres Friday, seeks to amplify the life of the beloved Queen of Tejano, beyond just her musical journey.
The new show is at its core a story about the Quintanillas, a tight-knit Mexican American family from South Texas striving for a better life while also overcoming the struggles Latinos face in the entertainment industry.
Christian Serratos, known for her role as Rosita Espinosa in AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” plays Selena in the Netflix series. Selena was 23 when she was fatally shot by the president of her fan club.
The first part of “Selena: The Netflix Series” is not only a celebration of the singer’s life, starting from her birth in Lake Jackson, Texas, in 1971 until the release of her second studio album, “Ven Conmigo” in 1990. It’s also a celebration of navigating life as a young American of Latino heritage.
“Selena didn’t know Spanish when she started singing. When she started performing in Mexico is when she realized that she had to go back to her roots and embrace the language, embrace the culture, understand more about who she was and where she came from,” said Seidy Lopez, a Mexico native who plays Marcella, Selena’s mother. “She explored that as she was growing as an artist, as she was growing as a woman. And I hope that this next generation gets to see that and that they bring it into their own experience because it’s very empowering.”
Several cast members spoke to NBC News about how their own memories intertwined with the singer’s career.
Ricardo Chavira, who plays Abraham, Selena’s father, remembers growing up in South Texas as Selena rose to stardom.
“I was picking up our local paper and reading about a concert that she had had or turning on a local newscast and seeing her accept her awards at the Tejano Music Awards,” Chavira said. “Her rise to success and her career was kind of part of the landscape that was my growing up in high school and in my early college years.”
A family affair
The show pays particular attention to the role Selena’s family played in her path to success.
Gabriel Chavarria portrays Selena’s brother, record producer A.B. Quintanilla, as he grapples with the pressure of coming up with hit songs for his sister to record.
“Abraham, he challenged A.B. a lot. He always wanted A.B. to be better and always come up with another hit and keep writing songs,” Chavarria said, adding that the show also dives into the backstory of hits such as “Como La Flor.”
“With that, A.B. was able to create the most iconic Selena: The Netflix Series songs that we know today,” he added.
To prepare for the role of Abraham, Chavira said that understanding the experiences of his own Mexican American father were crucial.
“Some people would say, this guy is really harsh, he’s very strict,” Chavira said Selana’s father. “Being harsh is one thing, but when you layer it with love and compassion, that’s parenting.”
Noemi Gonzalez plays Selena’s sister Suzette, the CEO of Q Productions, the Quintanilla family’s entertainment company and the former drummer of the Selena: The Netflix Series y Los Dinos band. Suzette is also one of the show’s executive producers.
“How can you not be intimidated with playing a real-life person? … Then on top of it, they are your boss,” Gonzalez said. “I also got to then come at it from a different light to say, you are playing this woman who ends up being executive producer, CEO of Q productions. She’s very different in the series than what we know her to be today. So how can I imbue that to her future self since I have that to work backwards from? So, it was a really fun, challenging opportunity.”
Loyal Selena fans may remember Seidy Lopez from her role as Selena’s friend, Deborah, in Gregory Nava’s 1997 feature film “Selena,” starring Jennifer Lopez. She appears in one of the movie’s most memorable scenes in which they’re at a boutique looking for dresses ahead of the 1994 Grammys and the store manager suggests they couldn’t afford to buy there — assuming they were poor Latinas.
“It is so special,” coming back as her mother, Seidy Lopez told NBC News. “In many ways, it almost felt like me peeking into my own childhood, through my mom’s perspective.”
A celebration of Mexican American culture
The portrayal of the Quintanillas comes at a time when hate crimes against Latinos increased in 2019, following the El Paso massacre at the hands of a gunman who told authorities he was targeting Mexicans. Latinos were also the only major racial and ethnic group that was underrepresented in on-screen speaking roles last year, according to the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.
“I had this very strong social awareness of the way that Mexican Americans have been received the last four years and how that has changed based on the political climate,” said Gonzalez, who is Mexican American. “It is important to show a hardworking family with good values and that we are all God’s children, just living through different conditions.”