Selena (film)

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The film poster shows a woman grinning over a live concert. The background is dark with faint faces of those in attendance to the concert, with the names of the two lead actors. The middle has the film's name and tagline, and the bottom contains a list of the director's previous works, as well as the film's credits, rating, and release date.
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Gregory Nava
Produced by
Written by Gregory Nava
Music by Dave Grusin
Cinematography Edward Lachman
Edited by Nancy Richardson
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date
  • March 21, 1997 (1997-03-21)
Running time
127 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $20 million[1]
Box office $35.5 million[1]

Selena is a 1997 American biographical musical drama film written and directed by Gregory Nava about the life and career of the late Tejano music star Selena, a recording artist well known in the Mexican American and Hispanic communities in the United States and Mexico before she was murdered by Yolanda Saldívar, the president of her fan club, at the age of 23.

The film stars Jennifer Lopez in her breakout role as Selena. Her father Abraham Quintanilla Jr. (who served as the producer in the film) is played by Edward James Olmos and Constance Marie plays Selena's mother Marcella Quintanilla. Selena was released on March 21, 1997 in the United States to positive reviews from critics and audiences.


The film begins on February 26, 1995, with American Tejano music singer Selena (Jennifer Lopez) performing to a sold out concert at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. Flashing back to Corpus Christi, Texas in 1961, a young Abraham Quintanilla Jr. (Edward James Olmos) and his band Los Dinos, are rejected for an audition by the restaurant owner due to their Mexican-American ancestry. They play another club, but are booed and chased out for performing pop ballads instead of Mexican dance music. Crushed, Abraham gives up his music career.

In 1981, Abraham is now married to Marcella (Constance Marie) and has three children, A.B. Quintanilla (Jacob Vargas), Suzette Quintanilla (Jackie Guerra), and Selena. One day Selena finds her father playing music and sings along. Enchanted by her voice, Abraham decides to start a band with Selena as lead vocalist, A.B. on bass, and Suzette on drums, despite Suzette's protests that "girls don't play drums". He names the band Selena y Los Dinos. The band performs often at the Mexican restaurant the family opens, and receive a positive reception from the diners. Eventually, the family moves to Corpus Christi after their business goes bankrupt.

The actions moved ahead to 1989, where Selena y Los Dinos are playing a concert at a fair. Abraham is shocked when Selena peels off her jacket and performs in a beaded bra. He confronts Selena on the band's bus, but she points out that her mother helped her make it, and that other fashionable female musicians such as Madonna and Janet Jackson are wearing bustiers too. Abraham relents, and Selena begins to design more and more of her band's attire.

When the band needs a new guitarist, A.B. recommends Chris Pérez (Jon Seda), and auditions him to his father. However, Abraham is hesitant to hire Chris because of his tough-guy, heavy metal image, but A.B. points out that "It's just musician stuff". Abraham agrees to hire Chris if he will cut his hair. Suzette and Selena re-style his hair and Chris joins the band. The touring band stops off at a roadside diner, where Suzette hears a radio announcement that "Como la Flor" has reached number one on the music charts. The band and family celebrate. Selena and Chris begin to have romantic feelings for each other. Selena's mother is supportive, but Abraham angrily fires Chris when he finds them hugging on the tour bus. Selena tearfully objects, but Abraham threatens to disband the group if she continues to see him.

Chris and Selena continue to see each other behind Abraham's back. Selena tires of having to hide their love, and goes to Chris' hotel room. She persuades him to elope, saying it's the only way her father will ever leave them alone. They marry secretly on April 2, 1992. The happy couple rides home in Selena' s convertible, but a radio station announces their marriage and plays "Como La Flor" in celebration. Selena and Chris decide to hide out for a day so Abraham will have time to cool off. Selena goes home to explain to her father, and Abraham agrees to accept their relationship. The Quintanillas welcome Chris to their family and rehire him to the band.

Selena plays a concert in San Antonio, watched by executives from her Latin music label. The producers talk to Abraham about her soaring popularity and phenomenal record sales, and ask if she's ready to crossover into the mainstream, English-speaking market.

Selena decides to fulfill another of her dreams and opens Selena Etc., a clothing boutique that will feature her designs, and hires Yolanda Saldívar (Lupe Ontiveros), the president of her fan club, to manage the boutique. Later, Selena is thrilled to win the Grammy Award for Best Mexican American Album.

Back home, Selena learns from her father that Yolanda has been stealing money from the fan club. On March 9, 1995, Selena and her father, along with Suzette, confront Yolanda about the missing funds at a meeting. Yolanda denies this and says she would never take anything from Selena. Selena, angry and hurt by Yolanda's betrayal, asks her how she could do this to her, and to her fans. Yolanda pleads for time to return the boutique's financial records and claims she can prove that she has done nothing wrong. Selena and Chris discuss the prospect of starting their family when the crossover tour is finished. The future seems bright with promise.

On March 31, after arguing over the missing financial documents, Selena is murdered by Yolanda at a Corpus Christi motel. Yolanda is arrested after a nine-and-a-half-hour standoff with the police. As Selena's family, friends, and fans mourn her tragic death, a montage of the real Selena photographs and videos play during a candlelight vigil by her fans, and the films ends with a freeze-frame of a smiling Selena with the caption "SELENA QUINTANILLA-PEREZ: 1971-1995."



On March 31, 1995, Selena was shot to death by Yolanda Saldívar, a former friend who had managed the singer's Selena Etc. boutiques.[2] Response by the Hispanic community was comparable to the reaction of the deaths of Elvis Presley, John Lennon, and John F. Kennedy.

News stands were swarmed by fans searching for Selena items. Eight unauthorized biographies were released and six documentaries and two major companies were in the process of releasing a Selena film, all without consent from Chris Perez and the Quintanilla family.[3]

Abraham decided to produce a film based on Selena within weeks of her death, a process he said was understandably difficult.[3] He believed a family-authorized, official film would "put an end to all the false rumors" that were circulating through the media, and "silence [the media] from telling the wrong story." He wanted "the whole world to know the [true] story about [Selena]."[3] A.B. spoke out the family's concern about possible "misinterpretation of [Selena], [their] family, and a culture" by outside sources and their belief that it was imperative to release their own official film about Selena.[3]

News of Abraham's desire to release an official, authorized film reached Hollywood, and American film producer, Moctesuma Esparza, immediately approached Abraham about partnering to produce the film.[3] Esparza educated Abraham about the filmmaking process and the support system he could provide while giving Abraham authoritative control over casting, approval of the script and director.[3]

On August 30, 1995 (a week after he and Abraham agreed to partner), Esparza returned to Corpus Christi from California and brought Gregory Nava. [3] Abraham disliked the Esparza's decision and expressed concern about Nava's potential involvement.[3] Abraham told Esparza he did not want Nava to be the director because of his ego. Esparza replied that "everybody in Hollywood has an ego problem" and convinced Abraham that he was the perfect candidate.[3] Producer Robert Katz later said Nava was chosen because other films he directed "has a very uplifting and positive quality" and believed they deal with "very strong and tragic elements."[3] The Dallas Morning News found Nava's works to give "moviegoers a passionate, powerful look at Hispanic life".[4] Katz said the team had overcome "what most people thought was a fatal contract" by entrusting Abraham's decisions and having a working relationship with him throughout the film's production: "working things out in advance so the studios knew exactly what we were proposing."[3]


Nava began by recording and asking the Quintanilla family to share stories about Selena. Suzette later said Nava took "hours and hours of little stories of our lives and what he would do and how he felt."[3] Nava wrote the first draft on March 4, 1996. Abraham contacted him about the elopement scene and expressed disagreement about it.[3] Abraham cited Selena's young admirers and was concerned about the possibility that they might conclude that eloping is always a good decision. Nava took a few days to persuade Abraham about the scene's content before he agreed to it.[3] Abraham was curious about Nava's knowledge of the event, and Nava confided that he obtained the details from an interview with Chris. Abraham had initially believed that Chris pressured Selena about getting married secretly.[3]

Roger Mussenden was hired as casting director, and held casting calls throughout the United States including San Antonio, Texas, Miami, Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles.[3]

The biographical film focused on Selena's life rather than her death. Nava said, "I don't want to attend to [her murder]", while her death is treated "at a distance".[5]


Nava confessed in 2007 that Selena was the most emotional film he had ever made.[3]


In June 1996, an announcement was issued that Jennifer Lopez was chosen to play Selena, in what was described as the "role of a lifetime. Lopez's salary for the film was reported salary at US$1 million.[6][7] The same month it was announced that a 10-year-old girl from Harlingen, Becky Lee Meza, had been chosen from "thousands of girls who answered a nationwide casting call" to play the younger version of Selena. Lee Meza stated: "I'm really excited about this because I've never done anything like this before".[8]

Lopez, along with the other actresses, had to undergo intense auditioning for the role, although she had already worked with Nava on another film, My Family (1995).[9] Screen testing was described as "grueling" and required "nine minutes of singing and dancing and eight pages of script."[5]

On August 8, 1996, the Los Angeles Daily News announced that Jon Seda and Edward James Olmos had joined the cast as Chris Perez and Abraham Quintanilla, respectively.[10]

Lopez's casting was subjected to very strong criticism from some of Selena's fans, who weren't pleased that Lopez, a New York City native born to Puerto Rican parents, was selected to play a Texan of Mexican descent. They preferred an actress with Mexican roots. The Latino community began protesting for a re-cast. During pre-production, Lopez stated: "I know a few people were protesting, but in Corpus [Selena's hometown] everyone has been really supportive".[5] Nava admitted that the backlash was "a little hurtful", and felt the protesters "should be celebrating that we have an all-Latino cast and that Jennifer Lopez, one of our own, is becoming a star."[5] Dave Karger of Entertainment Weekly noted that "nothing could have prepared [Lopez] for the hype attached to her million-dollar salary." Lopez perfected Selena's accent while "studying performance footage of the pop sensation" according to Nava. Lopez said "you need to do your homework on this gig" because Selena was "fresh in the public's mind".[5] After seeing Lopez's portrayal of Selena, protesters revised their opinions and most accepted Nava's decision.[11]

Filming Selena inspired Lopez to begin her own music career.[12][13]


Principal photography began September 1996, in San Antonio, Texas, Corpus Christi, Texas, Poteet, Texas, Houston, Texas and Lake Jackson, Texas. Nava used locals as extras for the film.[14] Selena's singing voice was dubbed into the film, with Lopez lip-syncing the songs.[5]

Jon Seda was unable to play guitar the same way Chris Perez did, as he explained on the film's DVD extra, Making of Selena: 10 Years Later.[15] He persuaded Chris to visit the set, without telling him that he would have Chris play the guitar for the audition scene with Abraham. The camera would zoom onto his hands and make it seem as if Seda were playing . Perez eventually agreed, and his hands were made up to match Seda's.[15][16]

The iconic stadium scenes, where Selena played to the record-breaking crowd at the Astrodome, featured approximately 35,000 extras. Filming took place at the Alamodome in San Antonio rather than the actual Astrodome in Houston.[17] Nava said he sought to capture the "magnificence, beauty and excitement" of the concert.[18]

Abraham Quintanilla again requested that Nava to remove scenes where Chris and Selena elope, but Nava pointed out that the scene was inevitable because it was an important part of Selena's story. Abraham eventually agreed.[15]


Main article: Selena (soundtrack)

An original motion picture Selena soundtrack was released by EMI Latin on March 11, 1997 debuting at number 20 on the US Billboard 200.[19] The CD contains twelve tracks with Selena singing the songs heard in the film. The only songs that were not in the film were "Is it the Beat," "Only Love," and "A Boy Like That," and Selena tributes sung by other artists.

The only recordings heard on the film were the "Cumbia Medley," "Disco Medley," and "Where Did the Feeling Go?", which was played in the last half of the film's closing credits. The Vidal Brothers' "Oldies Medley" was also on the film. All the other songs, including rare tracks, hits, and cuts like the "Disco Medley, Part II" (which was recorded live during Selena's 1995 concert at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo), were recordings from Selena in concerts.


Box office[edit]

Following its August 1995 announcement, Selena was slated for an August 1996 release date.[14] It was last pushed back to sometime at "the end of" 1996.[7] Ultimately, it was released in America on March 21, 1997, after being pushed back several times. After its opening weekend, Selena grossed a total of $11,615,722 domestically, opening at #2 at the United States box office.[20] In its second weekend, the film fell #3, grossing $6,138,838. The following weekend, it fell to No. 6, grossing $3,456,217. By April 20, 1997, Selena grossed a total of $32,002,285.[21] Its total lifetime gross stands at $35,281,794.[20] According to Box Office Mojo, Selena is the ninth highest-grossing musical biopic of all time.[22]

Critical response[edit]

Selena received mostly positive reviews from critics. Roger Ebert, film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, was impressed by the acting, and gave Selena three-and-a-half stars out of four and wrote, "Young Selena is played by Becky Le Meza, who has a big smile and a lot of energy. The teenage and adult Selena is played by Lopez in a star-making performance. After her strong work as the passionate lover of Jack Nicholson in the current Blood and Wine, here she creates a completely different performance, as a loyal Quintanilla who does most of her growing up on a tour bus with her dad at the wheel."[23]

Film critic Lisa Kropiewnicki liked the film and wrote, "Jennifer Lopez delivers a breakout performance...[and] Nava's engaging script wisely mines his subject's life for humor and conflict, embracing Selena Quintanilla's passion for music."[24] Film critic James Berardinelli also liked the film and the screenplay, writing, "It would have been easy to trivialize Selena's story, turning it into a sudsy, made-for-TV type motion picture." He believed the acting was top notch and wrote "Jennifer Lopez is radiant as the title character, conveying the boundless energy and enthusiasm that exemplified Selena, while effectively copying not only her look, but her mannerisms. I wonder if Selena's family, upon watching this performance, felt an eerie sense of déjà vu."[25]

Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan gave the film a mixed review. He wrote the film is part of a "completely predictable Latino soap opera." Yet, "there are chunks of Selena that only a stone could resist. This movie turns out to be a celebration not only of the singer but also (as "What's Love" was for Angela Bassett) of the actress who plays her, Jennifer Lopez."[26]

Some critics, however, did not like how the film appears like a sanitized Selena portrait. Critic Walter Addiego considers Nava's work a worshipful biography of her. Addiego, writing for the San Francisco Examiner, did have a few enjoyable moments viewing the film but wrote, "You can't help cheering for Selena, but the good feeling is diminished by the sense that her story's been simplified and sanitized."[27] The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 64% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on thirty-nine reviews.[28] At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from film critics, it has a rating score of 65, indicating "Generally favorable reviews".


Award Date Category Recipients and nominees Result Ref.
ALMA Awards June 4, 1998 Outstanding Feature Film Selena Won [29]
Outstanding Actor in a Feature Film Edward James Olmos Won
Jon Seda Nominated
Outstanding Actress in a Feature Film Jennifer Lopez Won
Jackie Guerra Nominated
Outstanding Latino Director of a Feature Film Gregory Nava Won
Golden Globe Awards January 18, 1998 Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy Jennifer Lopez Nominated [31]
Grammy Awards February 25, 1998 Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media Selena: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Nominated [32]
Imagen Awards April 1, 1998 Best Theatrical Feature Film Selena (tied with The Disappearance of Garcia Lorca) Tied [33]
Lasting Image Award Jennifer Lopez, Selena Won
Lone Star Film Awards 1998 Best Actress Jennifer Lopez Won [34]
Best Supporting Actor Edward James Olmos Won


The film opened in wide release on March 21, 1997 (1,850 theaters) and sales the opening weekend were $11,615,722. Selena ran for 15 weeks domestically (101 days) and eventually grossed* 60,000,000 ($35,281,794 in the United States. The film sales worldwide were considerably more. At its widest release the film was shown in 1,873 screens. The production budget of the film was approximately $20,000,000.[35][36]

A 10th Anniversary DVD edition of Selena was released on September 18, 2007 by Warner Home Video. The two-disc set contains the original theatrical version (127 minutes) and a director's cut version (134 minutes) of the film, which had been shown on several TV stations before. Extras include a Making of Selena: 10 Years Later featurette, a Queen of Tejano featurette, and nine additional scenes.[37]


  1. ^ a b "Selena (1997) gross". The-Numbers. 17 September 2011. 
  2. ^ "October 12, 1995, the testimony of Norma Martinez". Houston Chronicle. October 12, 1995. Archived from the original on July 15, 2007. Retrieved September 27, 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q The Making of Selena: 10 Years Later (DVD). Corpus Christi, Texas: Warner Bros. 2007. Event occurs at 30. 
  4. ^ "Nava chosen for `Selena' movie Filming to begin in February 1996". The Dallas Morning News. (James M. Moroney III). August 30, 1995. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Karger, Dave (August 9, 1996). "Biopicked for Stardom". Entertainment Weekly. Time Warner. Retrieved January 8, 2013. 
  6. ^ Jakle, Jeanne (October 30, 1996). "Selena star says yes to role as fiancee". San Antonio Express-News. Hearst Corporation. 
  7. ^ a b "`Mi Familia' actress Jennifer Lopez to play Selena in movie". Austin-American Statesman. (Cox Enterprises). June 15, 1996. 
  8. ^ "Harlingen girl chosen to play young Selena". San Antonio Express-News. (Hearst Corporation). June 19, 1996. 
  9. ^ Associated Press (June 14, 1996). "Lopez gets Selena role". Dallas News. 
  10. ^ "News & Notes". Los Angeles Daily News. (MediaNews Group). August 8, 1996. 
  11. ^ Guzman, Isabel Molina and Angharad N. Valdivia. "Brain, Brow, and Booty: Latina Iconicity in U.S. Popular Culture", Routledge: Volume 7, Number 2 / April–June 2004.
  12. ^ Mendible, M. (2007). "From bananas to buttocks: the Latina body in popular film and culture". Austin: University of Texas Press. Retrieved September 4, 2012.
  13. ^ "On the Down Lo". Billboard. 119 (5). Nielsen Business Media. February 3, 2007. p. 27. ISSN 0006-2510. Retrieved July 1, 2012. 
  14. ^ a b Bennett, David (September 14, 1996). "Director to use Corpus Christi, S.A. locales in Selena movie". San Antonio Express-News. (Hearst Corporation). 
  15. ^ a b c Making of Selena: 10 Years Later (DVD). Gregory Nava. September 2007. 
  16. ^ Selena LIVE: The Last Concert, "All Access: Behind the Scenes", movie featurette.
  17. ^ Béhar, Henri. Film Scouts, interview with Gregory Nava.
  18. ^ "60,000 sought at dome for `Selena' scene". San Antonio Express. (Hearst Corporation). September 4, 1996. 
  19. ^ "Billboard 200 > 29 March 1997". Billboard. 109 (13). 29 March 1997. Retrieved 9 April 2015. 
  20. ^ a b "Selena (1997) - Box Office Mojo". Box Office Mojo, Retrieved January 8, 2013. 
  21. ^ "Selena (1997) - Weekend Box Office Results - Box Office Mojo". Box Office Mojo, Retrieved January 8, 2013. 
  22. ^ "Biopic - Music Movies at the Box Office - Box Office Mojo". Box Office Mojo, Retrieved January 8, 2013. 
  23. ^ Ebert, Roger. The Chicago Sun-Times, film review, March 21, 1997. Last accessed: January 9, 2008.
  24. ^ Kropiewnicki, Lisa. Selena at AllMovie, film review. Last accessed: January 9, 2008.
  25. ^ Berardinelli, James. Reel Views, film review, 1997. Last accessed: January 9, 2008.
  26. ^ Turan, Kenneth. Los Angeles Times, "In the Authorized Selena, She's Seen in the Best Light", Calendar Section, March 21, 1997. Last accessed: January 9, 2008.
  27. ^ Addiego, Walter. San Francisco Examiner, film review, page C, March 21, 1997.
  28. ^ Selena at Rotten Tomatoes. Last accessed: September 12, 2011.
  29. ^ "1998 ALMA Awards nominees" (PDF). ALMA Awards. Retrieved July 31, 2014. 
  30. ^ "1998 ALMA Awards recipients" (PDF). ALMA Awards. Retrieved July 31, 2014. 
  31. ^ Cottrell, Robert C (2010). Icons of American popular culture : from P.T. Barnum to Jennifer Lopez. M.E. Sharpe. ISBN 0765622998. Retrieved October 3, 2012. 
  32. ^ Baugh, Scott L (April 13, 2012). Latino American cinema an encyclopedia of movies, stars, concepts, and trends. Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313380376. Retrieved October 3, 2012. 
  33. ^ "13th Annual Imagen Awards". Imagen Awards. Retrieved July 31, 2014. 
  34. ^ Albertson, Mark. Cultivating Chicana/o Images: Negotiating the Cinematic Masterpiece for Cultural Survival. p. 18. 
  35. ^ The Numbers box office data. Last accessed: January 9, 2008.
  36. ^ Box Office Mojo box office data. Last accessed: January 9, 2008.
  37. ^ "10th Anniversary edition of Selena" at DVD Active.

External links[edit]