Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, otherwise known as Selena, was and still is hailed as the Queen of Tejano music. Performing since childhood, she made waves in the predominantly male music scene and is still held in high regard in the Latinx American community. Her origin story, her rise to stardom, and the sacrifices her family made along the way are the subject of the new biopic series for Netflix, Selena: The Series.
Hiromi Kamata, a director on the first season, grew up in Mexico listening to Selena’s music. “There’s no wedding, no quinceañera, no baptism, no party that you can go to where you don’t listen to Selena,” she remarked in an interview via Zoom. “When your heart gets broken, you go to karaoke and sing ‘No Me Queda Mas’ or ‘Como La Flor’ by Selena.”
Kamata remembers the day Selena was shot and killed by her former fan club president, Yolanda Saldívar, in 1995. “It was a very memorable day for me. I was 13. My nanny was crying in her room and I didn’t know what was going on.” Upon learning the news of her death, the two listened to her music for the remainder of that afternoon.
Selena: The Series is Kamata’s second project for Netflix after the miniseries, Crime Diaries: The Candidate. Netflix was adamant about having a woman direct, which eventually led to her being invited on. Kamata directed six of the episodes from the first season.
This isn’t the first time the life of Selena has been adapted. In 1997, a feature film, Selena, was released by Warner Brothers, starring Jennifer Lopez in her first lead role.
“I grew up watching the movie a thousand times as a teenager,” Kamata reminisced. “I skipped school on a Friday morning to go see it at a movie theater. It’s iconic for my generation and it’s iconic for a lot of generations, and I think it’s untouchable.”
What she hopes for this newer adaptation to accomplish in the format it’s in is to reach deeper levels that would be impossible to do in a film’s time limit, and with that, allow for more time for the audience to engage with the story being told.
“There hasn’t been too many, in my humble opinion, memorable Mexican Americans iconic as Selena,” she added, “so 25 years later, the fact that we bring it back and refresh people’s memory and introduce her to new generations in a very powerful format, which is the series, gives you the freedom and time to really develop a character and develop a dramatic arch throughout the story.”
Although Kamata grew up with Selena’s music, she still did the work necessary to prepare herself ahead of shooting the first season. Once she was brought onboard, she worked closely with the writers on research, by way of photographs, videos, archive footage, interviews with the family, and everything else that she could get her hands on.
Kamata is a director who likes to hop from different genres in the projects she tackles as director; ranging from political thrillers, science fiction, and romance. Selena: The Series is her first music biopic.
“I’ve been very lucky to choose the jobs that I’ve been working on and mostly led by female characters,” she stated. “I’m not really married to any genre. I think one of the beauties of my work is that I can change genre as much as I can and it’s always a challenge.”
It was a different experience for her and one that she took seriously, not only out of respect for Selena’s fans, but also her family. Selena’s father, Abraham Quintanilla, and sister, Suzette Quintanilla, served as executive producers for the show.
“I guess every project has its own light, its own soul, its own personality,” Kamata commented. “This was my second project creating a real-life character, which is always a challenge and you always have to be very respectful and very thorough and you really have to think about how you’re going to portray a character — especially Selena.”
Selena: The Series comes over 25 years after Selena’s murder, but the passage of time hasn’t stopped the continual love and appeal for her life, music, and legacy.
“Her restless soul, her energy, her personality, she was just a star,” Kamata said. “They’re just born that way — I don’t know how to put it into words. Just to see a seven-year-old girl singing like that — if I was born and started taking singing lessons from day one of my life, I wouldn’t be able to sing at seven years old like Selena did.
“It’s like, she had it! She was born with it, she was full of energy and strength, of passion, of love, of who she was. She was just unique. I think that’s something that transcends time, that transcends countries, that makes you literally a legend.”
The first season of Selena: The Series starts streaming on Netflix on Friday, December 4.