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The Power of Selena Has Never Faded

The legendary singer’s global impact can’t be overstated, as yet another generation is introduced to her by Netflix’s new show ‘Selena: The Series’

Ringer illustration

This article has two purposes. The first purpose is to tell you about Selena, whom you very likely already know, and about Netflix’s new show Selena: The Series, which debuts on Friday. The second purpose is to tell you about Seidy Lopez, whom you very likely do not know.

Here are nine pieces of information about the real-life Selena:

  1. Selena—full name Selena Quintanilla—was a singer.
  2. Selena (mostly) sang Tejano music. (Music that sounds like this.)
  3. Selena began getting popular in the late ’80s and then started getting really popular in the early-to-mid ’90s.
  4. Her popularity, though, was extremely stratified. In areas where the Mexican population was thick, she was an unmissable force, and remains an unmissable force. In areas that didn’t have a sizable Mexican population, it’s like she didn’t exist at all. (A good example of that stratification: Six years ago, nearly two decades after her death, a woman named Patty Rodriguez started an online petition in hopes of getting M.A.C. Cosmetics to release an official Selena line of makeup. In 2015, M.A.C. finally got around to doing it, and it has since become their greatest-selling collaboration of all time, outearning collaborations with Rihanna, Mariah Carey, and even, somehow, Cinderella.)
  5. Selena was murdered in 1995 by Yolanda Saldívar, who at one time was the president of the official Selena fan club and who also managed a handful of clothing boutiques that specialized in Selena-inspired pieces. (Saldívar was fired from both for embezzling money.)
  6. Selena was just 23 years old when it happened.
  7. Following her death, the album that she’d been working on, Dreaming of You, was released. It debuted at no. 1 on the Billboard 200, which, per Billboard, was “a first at the time for a Latin artist, for a posthumous album, and for one recorded mostly in Spanish.” It eventually sold over 3 million copies.
  8. In 1997, Jennifer Lopez starred in a movie based on Selena’s life titled, appropriately, Selena. It was the first starring role for Lopez, and she was absolutely undeniable in it. She was so good in it, in fact, that before the movie came out, people were mad that a Puerto Rican actor had been chosen to play Selena, who was Mexican—but after the movie came out, pretty much everyone was like, “Oh. OK, yeah. That was great. Lopez was perfect for this.”
  9. In the years since her death, Selena has only gotten more powerful, more popular, more beloved. She has sold somewhere near 60 million albums and been the subject of several books and the abovementioned big-budget movie. Which brings us back to …

The latest iteration of Selena’s ever-expanding presence: Netflix’s new show Selena: The Series. You should watch it. But you should watch it in a very specific way. You should watch it as a supplement to 1997’s movie, and not as a replacement. Selena, the movie, is centered around Lopez as Selena. She’s the engine for all of it, her megawatt charm powering everything forward. Selena: The Series, though, which was produced, in part, by members of her family, focuses more on the people around Selena.

Doing it that way has its obvious drawbacks. (The show is at its best when Christian Serratos, who plays Selena, accesses the full capacity of her charisma, particularly the scenes in which she’s performing as Selena; it’d have been nice to see her on-screen as much as possible.) But it also allows for some neat, unexpected moments.

For example: A really enjoyable scene happens in the second episode when A.B. Quintanilla, played by Gabriel Chavarria, finds himself at a concert. He’s there because he’s working his way through a crisis of confidence with regard to his songwriting ability. As he stares at the band, a spotlight forms on him and things slow down. He flashes back to a moment from his childhood when his father, Abraham, played by Ricardo Antonio Chavira, explained to him and his siblings that music only works when all of the individual pieces are synced together properly. Then the show cuts back to A.B. under the spotlight, and we watch as he focuses his gaze on each member of the band. As he does, the other musicians fade into nothingness, and all that’s left is the person he’s watching and the sound that person is making.

First, it’s the keyboardist tinking away at the keys. Then it’s the guitar player softly plucking the strings. Then it’s the accordion player, who absolutely makes the most of his seven seconds of stardom. Then it’s the bass player. Then it’s the singer. And each time A.B. zooms in on them, you see only that person and you hear only their sound. Everything is isolated, just like Abraham had explained.

A slight smirk sneaks its way across A.B.’s face as he finally begins to understand what his dad was talking about. And then everything snaps into place and you hear the entirety of the song all at once. The message is clear: A.B. is about to write the fuck out of some songs for Selena. He lets out a proper smile as he watches the band play and then that song spins itself forward into a montage.

It’s a short scene—less than a minute, in total—but it’s fun to watch, and it’s enjoyable to see how the show spins its momentum around like that, through the various members of the family.

But, again: It would have been nice to get more of Serratos as Selena on the screen. (Meghan O’Keefe joked at Decider that the show should’ve been called “Y Los Dinos: The Series,” referring to the name of Selena’s backing band.)

Seidy Lopez and Christian Serratos in ‘Selena: The Series’
Netflix

The most iconic scene in 1997’s Selena takes place in a shopping mall. A stodgy saleswoman gives Selena a hard time after she asks to see an expensive dress that’s on display. It’s an homage to a similar scene in Pretty Woman, except in Selena, there’s no makeover to signal to the saleswoman that she has disastrously misread the situation. Instead, what happens is a Mexican guy happens to be wandering by and sees Selena as she’s helping her friend try the dress on. He loses his fucking mind about it and immediately starts shouting to anyone and everyone that the Selena is in the store.

We watch as the news echos through the mall, until eventually the store is stuffed full of people trying to get an autograph. The saleswoman, who has now learned that Selena is in town to attend the Grammys, is a mess. And right then, Selena’s friend steps out of the dressing room. They both agree that the dress isn’t right for her, and so Selena—in that way where you sound nice but you’re really saying “Fuck you”—tells the saleswoman that they won’t be buying it after all.

And I mention that right now to say this: The friend in the scene—a young woman named Deborah—is played by Seidy Lopez. And that’s important because Seidy Lopez also has a role in Selena: The Series. This time, though, she plays Selena’s mother.

I greatly care about Seidy Lopez. Her career as a character actor has put her on my television in some of my very favorite things. She played Deborah in Selena, which I love. She was outstanding as Mousie in Mi Vida Loca, a seminal coming-of-age movie for Latinos and one of the 10 or so movies I’ve seen dozens of times in my life. (This is cool.) She played Dreamer in Training Day. That one was just a small appearance, sure, but it made me exceptionally happy when she popped up in it because by that point I’d already built up an eight-year history with her; I was just so proud to see that she’d landed in a movie with Denzel Washington.

She’s really wonderful as Selena’s mom in Selena: The Series, and her casting is a lovely bit of historical circularity that speaks to an unquestionable point: The real-life Selena was of such endless influence and divination that an actress who was hired to play her fictional friend in 1997 has now been hired to play her mother nearly a quarter century later.

All these years later, she’s still with us, still guiding us forward, still finding ways to be in our lives. That’s a special level of staying power.