Selena: The Series creator answers burning questions, teases part 2 is 'rise of Selena the superstar'
The highly anticipated new series following the early years of Selena Quintanilla Perez was released on Friday, and series creator Moisés Zamora has the answers to all your burning questions.
For nine episodes, Selena: The Series Part 1 gives viewers a look at the singer's family life, what it was like for her growing up as part of a Mexican-American family, and the duality of living between Spanish and English language worlds. The series has also earned criticism for centering on Selena's father, Abraham Quintanilla (Ricardo Chavirra), in early episodes and not on the icon whose name the show bears.
No matter which side of the coin you land on, the series is a win for Latinx Hollywood, which continues to suffer from lack of representation. The production was shot fully in Mexico with a largely Latino cast and crew, which mirrored credited producers, costume and makeup, and a fully Latinx writers room.
Zamora addresses all that and more in an exclusive conversation with EW.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Can you recall the first moment you saw series star Christian Serratos and knew she was your Selena?
MOISES ZAMORA: Yes! It was during one of her auditions when she was fully dressed and made up like Selena. She was wearing a bustier and she sang “Amor Prohibido.” Oh my God, it was so exhilarating! At this point, we still hadn’t decided on who we were casting in the role, but she really embodied the character. What I noticed about her during this specific performance were her eyes. Selena’s eyes are so important. I feel like Christian’s eyes matched hers and there was something about her gaze that immediately captivated me. Her performance of the song was also beautiful. She had another session which was a more emotional scene and that’s when everyone watching teared up that really sealed the deal for us.
The costumers worked hard to recreate many iconic outfits from Selena's life. But did anything that belonged to Selena make a sneaky appearance?
We visited with the family during our planning phase and they gave us access to a huge archive from Selena's life, much of which had never been seen by the public. As you can imagine, all of those artifacts are protected and we did not bring anything with us outside of very documented photographs. So, no. Nothing that I know of made it on set, unless someone snuck something on and didn't tell me!
There has been criticism about Selena: The Series focusing so heavy on her father for the first 4-5 episodes. Why did you go in that direction?
The episodes focus largely on Abraham because he made choices for the family and Selena that led to her stardom. Abraham reminds me of my grandfather, stern yet loving. What he represents for me, it's this rare depiction of a Mexican-American father who believes in his children's musical potential so much. Here we have a Latino dad who not only sees this incredible raw talent in his little girl, Selena, but also in his other little girl, Suzette, who is talented in her own right. He believes, in his own Mexican way, in his children. It's vital to tell this part of the story through Abraham's POV. He made those decisions, he understood it's about them and you can see that drive and love when he speaks to his brother Hector about trying to chase their musical dream. Without her family, we don't have Selena. So in part 1, we focused on the birth of Selena and Los Dinos through her family's point of view and Part Two, which has already been shot, is the rise of Selena the superstar.
Selena's widower, Chris Perez, was not involved in the series. How did you handle telling his story?
It's a complicated topic because, of course, we wanted to have everyone be involved. We handled this by always staying focused on Selena's perspective and that of her family. Chris is a public figure and a lot has been reported about their relationship, especially their wedding. I think I have a copy of the original marriage certificate. We know all of those public elements and we can also imagine what it felt like for them to be getting married against your family's wishes. We did the best we could. We knew this was the love of her life. We know Chris is a great person, and we knew we wouldn't deviate from that. What was most important to us, in this context, is to show that Selena was really fighting for something that was really dear to her—the person that she loves.
I think the soundtrack is one of those really important things that tell the complexities of her character. Yes, she was an American teen and she was obsessed with Jody Watley. You can see how Selena's music was influenced by Jody Watley, Paula Abdul, and other pop icons from the era. The song "More Than Words" from Extreme was widely reported — and Suzette did share with us — that it was thanks to that song that she and Chris fell in love. Music brought them together. Extreme was one of Chris' favorite bands at the time, apparently, and he was just sharing his favorite music with Selena. She loved that song so much too, so it eventually became their song. They listened to it so much that it would annoy everyone! It was through that song that they could express their feelings without arousing suspicion. They couldn't talk! What they felt for each other was more than words.
Can you share insight into the brief scene that shows Yolanda Saldivar (Natasha Perez)?
Her brief appearance felt innocuous, showing her as someone who at the beginning wanted to help out. She wanted to be part of this world so she volunteered to do whatever they needed help with. At the time, they were growing so fast and were faced with so many challenges. The fans meant so much to Selena and they needed someone to take the lead on that full time. Her part grew as she took on more responsibilities and we'll show that more in part 2, how essential she becomes to the workings of Selena and her brand.
There has been talk about how the series adds to the commercial exploitation of Selena. What is your response to that?
I think it’s an interesting conversation about the series being exploitative of Selena because I think it’s a catch 22. A lot of the efforts that a lot of people will enjoy learning about Selena are the family’s efforts. They have a museum and there’s so much about her available online. The fact is, with or without the “commercial exploitation” of Selena, she's an icon. She’s a Marilyn Monroe, she’s a Maria Felix. She’s up there with all the legends already, so it would impossible to protect the public’s relationship with her. I personally think there should be 100 more stories, like shows and films, about Selena. Just like there are 100 stories about Marilyn or Elvis, or any other American icon. That gives people the opportunity to express their relationship with an icon. So they can share their stories about someone that clearly represents a lot to people like Selena does for the Latino community. For me, telling this story is another opportunity to share a story that is important to the American canon.
The interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.