“Are they gonna love me, Mama?”
“Yes, Mija, they’re gonna love you.”
25 years ago today, Selena was released on the big screen, throughout the years bringing about a wider audience than those that knew her through their beloved Tejano music. In 1997, at the time, the tragedy of Selena’s murder was still fresh in the hearts of her fans and, more importantly, her family. Yet, all these years later, we cannot stop singing and dancing to this homage to such a talented woman.
It’s not a spoiler to say that the story of Selena Quintanilla is a tragic one. A girl who grew up the youngest of three in a small house in Corpus Christi, Texas. Selena was born to sing, which upon hearing the voice of this angel, her father Abraham (Edward James Olmos) set out to start a band. He himself falling on the unlucky side of being a professional musician, but he was going to get her career started. This music venture would be a family affair with each kid playing a part. There was an initial disconnect between the music the kids wanted to sing, and the music Abraham wanted. But Tejano, mixed with a modern kick, is what they later settled on, and Selena (Jennifer Lopez) took off. Not only was her music catchy, but her personality could melt a heart of stone. Selena had a heart of her own, too. It was her plan to follow that heart in a life that was laid out by others. This led her to the love of her life, Chris Perez (Jon Seda), a guitarist in her band. While Selena pursued her career, she kept Chris a secret as her father didn’t approve of their love. Nevertheless she kept pursuing her dream, hoping to make it to the big-time. And boy… did she make the big-time.
Selena begins with the last concert at the Houston Astrodome. A vibrant young Selena riding around in a carriage before she is taken up to her rotating stage. The stadium is completely sold out to a crowd of roaring fans crying her name. Jennifer Lopez has the honor of playing the titular role. But up until this point in her career, she was known for small parts, and her role as a Fly Girl on In Living Color. The concert—alone—encapsulates how perfectly Lopez fits into this role. Her background in dancing adds that much needed flair to Selena’s natural ability to groove to the music. However, Lopez’s research into the singer goes far beyond just the dancing. To anyone who has seen the actual concert footage, you know how precise the mannerisms are. Lopez moves around the stage, becoming Selena in the process. There was an interview that Suzette Quintanilla had done about five years ago remarking about how Lopez embodied the singer from the start. She was almost Selena incarnate—doing certain things around the house when she lived with Suzette and her husband, during the time of filming, that were so much like Selena.
The film doesn’t lack in the supporting cast category as director Gregory Nava gets every ounce of great acting from them. The leader of the pack is none other than Edward James Olmos as Abraham, but each character lends their part in bringing this vision to life. In a film that is so heavily dominated with a Latino cast, it is amazing to see it succeed at the level which it does. Lopez went on to garner a Golden Globe nomination for her performance, and her career has since exploded. But as successful as Lopez has become, she continues to hold a special place in her heart for this film.
Towards the end of Selena, Abraham says, “You broke the Tejano music scene wide open. No woman’s ever been able to make it.” She was on the cusp of releasing an English language album that could’ve possibly propelled her to even greater heights, but I guess we’ll never know. So why, after 25 years do we continue to flock to Selena? Is it that we have a force pulling us to young stars who die too soon? Heath Ledger, Kurt Cobain, James Dean, Janis Joplin, etc. Maybe. Those who missed out on her greatness while it was happening, and those who actually saw it live find some comfort in the scenes of Selena. Here, within these moments, it’s safe, a pristine picture of another talented artist who’s gone before her time.
Directed by: Gregory Nava
Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Edward James Olmos, Jon Seda, Jackie Guerra, Jacob Vargas, and Constance Marie