Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Gregory Nava|
|Written by||Gregory Nava|
|Music by||Dave Grusin|
|Edited by||Nancy Richardson|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$35.5 million|
Selena is a 1997 American biographical musical drama film written and directed by Gregory Nava about the life and career of Tejano music star Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, a recording artist well known in Mexico and the Latino communities in the United States 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. Selena's 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.
In 1961, a young Abraham Quintanilla and his band "The Dinos" are rejected by a racist white restaurant owner for an audition. They perform for a Mexican nightclub but a riot ensues when they perform American pop music. In 1981, Abraham is married to Marcela Samora, with three children: Abraham III (A.B.), Suzette, and Selena. Abraham discovers Selena's singing talent and decides to create a band called Selena y Los Dinos, with Selena as lead singer, A.B. on bass, and Suzette on drums. The kids are reluctant but grow fond of making music.
In the 1980s, the impacts of Reaganomics cause the Quintanillas to go bankrupt and lose their restaurant. They move to Corpus Christi, Texas and Abraham takes the band on the road to support the family. Selena performs at a carnival to a lackluster reception. Selena begins to incorporate more dance and personality into her acts. The band’s success, and its members, mature into local success. In 1990, Selena meets guitarist Chris Pérez when he auditions as the band’s new guitarist. Abraham disapproves of Chris’ heavy metal style, but hires him after Chris agrees to cut his hair. Selena and Chris come to know each other and eventually fall in love. When Chris' former band members trash a hotel suite, Abraham threatens to fire him. A.B. pleads with him to reconsider, pointing out that he is needed for their upcoming tour.
Selena and the Dinos begin their tour of Mexico, but promoters are worried when they discover she does not speak Spanish well, but she quickly wins everyone over with her personality and care for her fans. A show almost goes awry when its larger-than-expected crowd rushes the stage. Selena calms the crowd, draws them into a joyous performance, and is accepted as “an artist for the people” in Mexico. Abraham catches her embracing Chris on the tour bus. Enraged, he fires Chris and threatens a heartbroken Selena and the rest of the family with disbandment if she or any of them follow him.
Selena and Chris continue their romance behind Abraham's back and eventually elope to the Nueces County Courthouse. They plan to gently break the news to her family, but a radio station announces their marriage. A day later, Abraham tells Selena he is glad she made a mature decision, realizes she felt she had no other choice, and only wants her to be happy. The Quintanillas congratulate them and accept Chris as part of their family and as the guitarist for Los Dinos.
Jose Behar and music executives from EMI Latin attend a Selena concert and offer Abraham a chance for Selena to make an English-language album, which Abraham accepts. Selena opens her first Selena Etc. boutique and asks her fan-club president Yolanda Saldivar to manage it. Selena’s album Selena Live! wins a Grammy Award for Best Mexican-American album, begins recording her crossover album, and convinces Chris to have children.
Selena’s staff chip in to get her a gift to celebrate. Yolanda says she knows the perfect gift and suggests that they turn all the money over to her so she can shop for it. Yolanda gives Selena a ring that resembles the Faberge eggs she collects, but makes no mention of the rest of the staff who contributed. Abraham calls Selena to a meeting about angry calls from fans who paid to join her fan club, but received nothing. Other funds that Yolanda has been handling cannot be accounted for, and vital business records are missing. Yolanda is summoned to Q-Productions and confronted by Abraham, Selena, and Suzette. Yolanda denies wrongdoing and says she will find the missing documents. Selena is disappointed and angry that her fans were mistreated.
Selena enjoys her growing success and plays a show at the Houston Astrodome. Abraham expresses his pride that she has broken down the cultural and racist barriers and found success. On March 31, 1995, Selena meets Yolanda at a Corpus Christi motel to collect her missing business records and is shot dead. Yolanda is arrested after a standoff with the police. As Selena's family, friends, and fans mourn her death, a montage of the real Selena plays during a candlelight vigil.
- Jennifer Lopez as Selena
- Rebecca Lee Meza as Young Selena
- Edward James Olmos as Abraham Quintanilla Jr.
- Panchito Gómez as Young Abraham
- Constance Marie as Marcela Quintanilla
- Jon Seda as Chris Pérez
- Lupe Ontiveros as Yolanda Saldívar
- Jackie Guerra as Suzette Quintanilla
- Victoria Elena Flores as Young Suzette
- Jacob Vargas as A.B. Quintanilla
- Rafael Tamayo as Young A.B.
- Alexandra Meneses as Sara
- Ruben Gonzalez as Joe Ojeda
- Seidy López as Debra
- Pete Astudillo as himself, Dinos 1990s
- Ricky Vela as himself, Dinos 1990s
- Don Shelton as himself, Dinos 1990s
On March 31, 1995, Selena was shot to death by Yolanda Saldívar, a former friend who had managed the singer's Selena Etc. boutiques. Response by the Hispanic community was comparable to the reaction of the deaths of musicians Elvis Presley, John Lennon, and U.S. president John F. Kennedy. Newsstands were swarmed by people looking for items concerning Selena. 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. This led Abraham to produce a film based on Selena within weeks of her death, a process he found difficult since he and his family were still mourning.
He believed an authorized film would "put an end to all the false rumors" that were circulating through the media at the time, and "silence [the media] from telling the wrong story." He wanted "the whole world to know the [true] story about [Selena]." 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 the singer. He further said that the decision was forced upon them after learning about the unauthorized biographies and films that could have potentially misconstrue Selena's story. At the time of Abraham's decision, there were "gossip and hurtful crazy things that were coming from the press" about the family's plan on a film. Abraham wanted the film to immortalize Selena "in a true positive and beautiful way [and wanted] to celebrate her life [and to] quiet and put to rest all [the] negative ugliness [the media had portrayed]."
News of Abraham's desire to release an official authorized film reached Hollywood, and American film producer, Moctesuma Esparza. Esparza immediately approached Abraham at his office in Corpus Christi, Texas about partnering to produce the film. He 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 choosing the director. On August 30, 1995 (a week after he and Abraham agreed to partner), Esparza returned to Corpus Christi from California and brought Gregory Nava. Abraham disliked Esparza's decision and expressed concern about Nava's potential involvement.
Abraham told Esparza he did not want Nava to be the director because of his ego, though Esparza convinced Abraham that he was the perfect candidate. 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." The Dallas Morning News found Nava's works to give "moviegoers a passionate, powerful look at Hispanic life". On September 8, 1995, Abraham informed the media on his decision to partner with Esparza/Katz Productions and announced the film's budget to be in the range of $15 and $20 million. In an Entertainment Weekly interview, Abraham confessed on wanting the duo because they were "in tune with our culture". Other Hispanic filmmakers were considered to direct the film including Luis Valdez and Edward James Olmos but had settled with Nava. 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."
Nava began writing the script after recording the Quintanilla family on their stories about Selena. Suzette informed on how Nava took "hours and hours of little stories of our lives and what we would do and how we felt." Nava explained on how some stories "had came out" during his recording sessions with the family and published the first draft on March 4, 1996. The incident where Selena and Perez eloped was written in the draft which Abraham expressed disagreements on it. Citing the singer's popularity with children, he was concerned that they could get the wrong message about elopement as being the best decision.
Nava took a few days to persuade Abraham about the scene's content before he agreed to it, noting that although he understood Abraham's viewpoint, Selena's elopement was important to include because it was a major part of her story. He further insisted that his character's embracement after the scene would shade a more positive tone after his earlier negative judgments on Selena and Perez's relationship in the film. Curious on how Nava found out about the elopement, Abraham asked the director and found out that he had interviewed Perez, who had said that Selena had coaxed him into elopement; with earlier assumption that Perez had pressured her into secretly getting married.
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. Casting calls began on March 16, 1996 and concluded on March 23. Over 21,000 people auditioned for the title role, becoming the second largest audition since the search for Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind (1939). Casting turnouts reached 10,000 in Los Angeles and 5,000 in Chicago, while turnouts reached 8,000 in San Antonio. Mussenden chose 10-year-old Rebecca Lee Meza of Harlingen to portray young Selena, her acting debut.
Mexican actress Salma Hayek was invited to test the role of Selena by Esparza. Hayek turned the role down; she said she felt it was "too early" to base a movie on Selena and that it would be emotional because Selena's death was still being covered on U.S. television. Abraham discovered an actress in Los Angeles and wanted her for the role as Selena, despite her inability to convince the casting crew. He later had a change of heart when American actress and dancer Jennifer Lopez had showed up for the audition.
Lopez found the audition process an elaborated procedure and was asked to sing, dance, and act out the elopement scene in front of the casting crew and Abraham. Within three takes of the elopement scene, Lopez convinced the entire casting crew who believed her performance was "among the strongest". Lopez had previously worked with Nava in My Family (1995). Screen testing was described as "grueling" and required "nine minutes of singing and dancing and eight pages of script." After the announcement that Lopez would portray Selena, news media and fans criticized Abraham for choosing Lopez, a New York City native born to Puerto Rican parents, was selected to play a Texan of Mexican descent.
The Mexican media disapproved the film and were outraged that Lopez was chosen for the title role. Lopez received backlash from the media and fans because she was not a Mexican American. The Hispanic community began protesting for a recast. During pre-production, Lopez stated: "I know a few people were protesting, but in Corpus [Selena's hometown] everyone has been really supportive". 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 Lopez, one of our own, is becoming a star." The announcement was described as the "role of a lifetime." from news outlets and Lopez's salary for the film was reported at $1 million, which made Lopez the highest paid Hispanic actress in history. Dave Karger of Entertainment Weekly noted that "nothing could have prepared [Lopez] for the hype attached to her million-dollar salary."
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. After Lopez received the role, she decided to stay with Suzette at her home to study her character in the recordings and footage the family shared with her. Lopez felt that her "spirit and [Selena's] spirit were so similar" which was echoed by the singer's family who found that Lopez mimicked similar personality traits of Selena. They believed that Lopez' body language, laugh, and how she talked were identical to that of Selena's.
Lopez had constant dance rehearsals for the film and said how she would arrive at the studio late in the day after finishing filming for another role. The family often had the entire main cast of the film over for dinner and would notice how they would watch them in their interactions with each other and the way they ate. Edward James Olmos, who took the role as Abraham, was asked to gain 40 pounds (18 kg) for the film. The cast found Olmos to be a father figure for them and often gave advice to the cast during filming.
A.B., found Olmos' portrayal of his father to be convincing especially in the scene where Abraham was angered after finding out about Selena and Perez' relationship. Suzette discovered that Jackie Guerra, who played her in the film, constantly fixed her fitted and asked her family if she had done that before in which the family replied that she unknowingly does so. Band member Pete Astudillo, had to do a screen test of himself for the film and said how he had to improvise in several of his scenes since he had little dialogue in the film.
American actor Jon Seda portrayed Chris Perez in the film and often spent time with Perez for character development. Seda said how he had spent time with Perez at the home he shared with Selena and found a price sticker in the bathroom with a scribbled letter that read "Selena and Chris, I Love You" and expressed on how that further inspired him to "show the love they [once] had" in the film. 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".
Principal photography began September 1996, in San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Poteet, Houston, and Lake Jackson, Texas. Nava used locals as extras for the film. Selena's singing voice was dubbed into the film, with Lopez lip-syncing the songs. During the opening of the Selena Etc. boutique scene, Suzette believed Lopez was wearing Selena's clothing to her disbelief that the costume crew members had replicated the suit the singer wore. Costume designer Elisabetta Beraldo remade Selena's dress she wore when she won the Grammy Award in 1994.
Suzette said how she was overcome with emotions after viewing Lopez in the dress. During the elopement scene, Perez explained how he had reminiscent the event as if he was "transported back in time" and remembered how he had a do not disturb sign and hearing a knock on his door. He found the scene to be one of the hardest to watch after reliving the moment when Selena had told him that eloping was the only resource they had and that they would never have a wedding she dreamed about. Perez refused to visit the set and explained that he did not want to partake in the film's process.
Seda convinced him to visit for the scene where his character auditions for the role as the new guitarist for the band. After researching on how to perform a riff on a guitar and having lessons from Perez, Seda felt that the scene would not come off as authentic since he could not replicate Perez' guitar riffs. He tricked Perez into visiting the scene so that he could play the riff and have the director shoot a close up of his hands for the film. Seda said how after the film was released that people believed he could play the guitar; he said he told fans how Perez was actually the one performing the riff in the scene.
Nava pointed out how he wanted the performance scenes in the film to be "integrated into the drama and to reflect what the characters were going through emotionally and what Selena was going through emotionally at that particular time." He further explained how he wanted the Astrodome scene to be the opening of the film to show viewers at her height of her career and then backtrail to show how she got there. The scene was shot at the San Antonio Alamodome on September 15, 1996 and was advertised in newspapers which garnered the attention of 35,000 people.
Lopez said how she was nervous for the scene since it would be the first time she would perform in front of an audience of that size. She further expressed how uneven she was due to the criticism she received and was unsure how fans would receive her. Jackie Guerra voiced on how during the scene she saw Selena's parents sobbing, the cast later said how after the scene was completed they were overwhelmed with emotions. Later that night, fans approached Lopez sobbing that she looked identical to Selena and public perception on Lopez changed after her performance.
The death scene was shot once, the cast explained how once they were emotional they continued after the director announced the take. Guerra said how she was physically and emotionally drained after the death scene was shot. She explained how she "could not imagine what's it like to be [the Quintanilla family]" and further said how she had to live with the pain for four months but found it unimaginable to the pain the family goes through since the death of Selena. Lopez spoke how the scene made her appreciate life even more, whereas Seda expressed that working on the film was one of the hardest for him in terms of departing from the cast.
An original motion picture Selena soundtrack was released by EMI Latin on March 11, 1997 debuting at number 20 on the US Billboard 200. 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.
Selena earned $11.6 million on its opening weekend. On its second weekend, the film earned $6.2 million. The following weekend, it earned $3.5 million. The film grossed $35.5 million during its theatrical run in the United States and Canada.
The first DVD release of Selena was released in 1997. A 10th Anniversary DVD edition 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 Making of Selena: 10 Years Later, Selena, Queen of Tejano, and nine additional scenes. Warner Archive Collection released the Blu-ray format for the first time on May 19, 2020, and it contained both cuts of the film in addition to all the extras from the 10th Anniversary DVD.
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 Lee 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." Entertainment Weekly believed 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".
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." 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."
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."
Some critics, however, did not like how the film appeared to be 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." The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 64% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on 47 reviews. The consensus reads, "Selena occasionally struggles to tell its subject's story with depth or perspective, but those flaws are rendered largely irrelevant by Jennifer Lopez in the title role".  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|||
|Outstanding Actor in a Feature Film||Edward James Olmos||Won|
|Outstanding Actress in a Feature Film||Jennifer Lopez||Won|
|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|||
|Grammy Awards||February 25, 1998||Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media||Selena: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack||Nominated|||
|Imagen Awards||April 1, 1998||Best Theatrical Feature Film||Selena (tied with The Disappearance of Garcia Lorca)||Tied|||
|Lasting Image Award||Jennifer Lopez, Selena||Won|
|Lone Star Film Awards||1998||Best Actress||Jennifer Lopez||Won|||
|Best Supporting Actor||Edward James Olmos||Won|
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