The True Story Behind Selena: The Series, Explained

‘Selena: The Series’ is a Netflix drama series about the Mexican-American music icon, fashion designer, and actress Selena Quintanilla-Pérez. The show follows the young starlet’s life from her humble beginnings in Texas to her family’s struggles and her father’s limitless faith in his daughter’s talents, all of which resulted in Selena becoming widely known as the “Queen of Tejano music.” One of the most influential Latin artists of all time, Selena was also an accomplished fashion designer, often referred to as the “Tejano Madonna.”

However, her stardom invariably remained rooted in where she came from — her family. A truly heartfelt and inspiring story about a family that refuses to give up on their dream and eventually manifests it, ‘Selena: The Series‘ paints a picture of the American Dream through the eyes of a Mexican-American family. But how much of it is true? If you want to know, you’ve come to the right place.

Is Selena: The Series Based on a True Story?

Yes, ‘Selena: The Series’ is based on a true story. The show faithfully follows the story of the young starlet and has been created and co-written by first-time showrunner Moisés Zamora in consultation with the Quintanilla family. With Selena’s sister and former bandmate, Suzette, and father, Abraham, also featuring as executive producers, the show is able to bring Selena’s childhood and formative years to the forefront and gives viewers intimate details about her family and their significant role in her rise to stardom.

Unlike earlier portrayals of Selena’s life, most notably in the 1997 movie ‘Selena’ in which she is essayed by Jennifer Lopez, the show steps away from focussing on her untimely murder and makes the story more about her journey rather than the tragedy. As most fans of Selena already know, in 1995, the singer was shot dead in her hotel room by the president of her fan club — Yolanda Saldivar. Showrunner Moisés Zamora revealed that though he did extensive research on Saldivar, he did not reach out to her for the making of the show.

Instead, he focussed on trying to understand her psychology and how she was able to “ingratiate herself into this family and work for them.” Saldivar, as well as Selena’s murder, is, of course, featured on the show. However, the star’s life is more the focus here, rather than her death. Working with Jaime Davila’s Latinx production company Campanario Entertainment, Zamora brought Selena’s roots to the forefront and focussed on her inspirational story. Aware that only focussing on her stardom and subsequent murder would provide material for only a couple of episodes, including Selena’s formative years gave him the chance to explore more material on the show and make the story longer and more engaging.

With Selena’s family on board, he felt the need to represent the details they gave him as authentically as possible. This resulted in scenes like the one featuring homemade stage lights constructed from peach cans by the family to book Selena her first few gigs. Other details about the early days of their band — Selena y Los Dinos — are also faithfully represented on the series, including how their appearances on several platforms like the Tejano Music Awards and The Johnny Canales Show led to a surge in their popularity. The band’s early performances, some of them captured on grainy footage, are also recreated on the show in a similar grainy style.

Selena’s dual cultural identity, being an American of Mexican heritage, is also explored on the show as the singer wrestles with incorporating her cultural roots into her music, all while hoping to become as inspirational and iconic as Madonna and Paula Abdul. Being from a Mexican immigrant family himself, Zamora felt drawn to this aspect of Selena’s story. He moved to the US at the age of 11 and can still recall the times when his family struggled and had to all sleep on the floor in the same room.

This made him identify strongly with the Quintanilla family’s hardships, which are portrayed in great detail on the show. The family is featured sleeping on the floor of their single cramped motel room multiple times, as well as practically living on their tour bus. The Mexican point of view and Chicano culture portrayed on the show is, therefore, an important motif for the show creator, who wanted to portray the undeniably important role it played in Selena’s life and music.

Apart from originating from a Mexican family herself, most of Selena’s audience in her early days was also from Mexican working-class families. Hence, the singer spent her childhood steeped in Chicano culture, something that Zamora felt the need to explore before he could go on to explore her stardom. The challenge in creating the show was to take an experience so specific to one culture and bridge it in such a way that it can engage a global audience. Additionally, to keep the authenticity of the narrative intact, Zamora led a team of 14 Latinx writers, more women than men, to pen the show.

The wider purview of ‘Selena: The Series’ also allows audiences to get to know the stories of Selena’s siblings and band members A.B. and Suzette, as well as about her relationship and subsequent marriage to guitarist Chris Perez. Apart from subtle changes made on the show for dramatic effect, the major events, dynamics, and characters have all been kept true to reality. One such example includes Selena and Chris’ secret affair being discovered by her father Abraham, and whereas on the show, he accidentally catches them stealing a private moment, in reality, it was reportedly Suzette who revealed the affair to her father.

In conclusion, ‘Selena: The Series’ is possibly one of the most accurate non-documentary retellings of the iconic singer’s life and closely follows reality whilst still being dramatic enough to keep younger audiences, who might not have heard of her, engaged. The show creator’s own experiences as an immigrant and his heavy focus on keeping the narrative distinctly Chicano makes this iteration of Selena’s story inspirational instead of tragic and ties in neatly with the parable of a working-class family finally achieving the (Mexican) American dream.

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