Who Owns Selena’s Legacy?
The subculture of Selena Quintanilla Pérez super-fandom, or Selenidad, was born out of grief. After the Queen of Tejano music was murdered on March 31st, 1995 — shot once in the back by the president of her fan club, Yolanda Saldivar — her Mexican American fans mourned her. For some it was like a close relative had been assassinated and an untouchable, living religious diva was extinguished before she could perform her miracles.
When Dreaming of You, her first English-language album, was released posthumously that summer, it sold over 175,000 copies in a single day and eventually over 3 million copies. In her home state of Texas, they painted large murals of her, erected a statue, named a park in her honor and made her Corpus Christi music studio into a museum. All these decades later, fans still put her photos up on their Día De Muertos ofrendas and dress up in her most famous outfits on the anniversary of her death.
Selena became a crossover star after her death, and her legend only continues to grow thanks to the fans and a myth that is still carefully cultivated by her family. Yet, for the past 25 years, her fans have been questioning her family’s aggressive attempts at controlling her legacy. Now that Selena: The Series, the Netflix show executive-produced by her 82-year-old father Abraham Quintanilla, has been streaming (it returns for its second season on May 4th), it’s become even more apparent to viewers that they are only getting one side of the story.
Part one of the show kicks off with a larger-than-life scene of Selena (played by Christian Serratos) singing her iconic “Como La Flor” to an adoring audience, brother A.B. (Gabriel Chavarria) and husband Chris Pérez (Jesse Posey) behind her on the guitars and sister Suzette (Noemí González) being her badass self on the drums. Serratos may not resemble Selena — but who does? The scene itself and Selena’s passionate voice (lip-synced by Serratos) has enough soul to give any fan chills — but it all gets a bit less dazzling from there.
The Abraham Quintanilla show
One of the biggest issues fans are having with the show is the lack of complexity and development in the characters, Selena included. While the late “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” singer is meant to be the star, she’s treated as more of a side character, or even as an employee of her dad’s band, which he formed to chase his own dream of being a successful musician. Fans on social media have even joked that the show should’ve been called “the Quintanillas.”
Over the years, Abraham has shared his confusion and frustration with the festivals and celebrations for his daughter. “It’s crazy. It grows every day with events everywhere, but we’re not organizing them. Our family never got together every year on the day of her murder, because there’s nothing to celebrate, and this year won’t be the exception,” Quintanilla, a Jehovah’s Witness, said in on the 20th anniversary of her murder. “We remember our daughter every single day. We don’t need a special day to remember her.”
Apart from that, Selena is portrayed as an innocent, soft-spoken, perfect daughter who is more interested in her parents’ approval than in her own life. She’s a far cry from the Selena we saw in the 1997 movie Selena, which launched Jennifer Lopez’s acting career. In that film, fans got to see the spunky, beautiful, silly, confident, adventurous Selena who often clashed with her dad and put her foot down to get her way — the one who Pérez so vividly described in his 2012 book, To Selena With Love.
“I was a little disappointed, because even in the movie there was more character development,” says Monica Peralta, 27, a Selena impersonator based in Los Angeles. “Even little Selena [in the movie] was more … not confrontational, but challenging. She wanted to play with her friends and she didn’t want to learn Spanish. But in the series, it was very confusing to see her very passive and very accepting of everything. I think they focused more on portraying her as a performer rather than as a human being.”
(It is worth noting, however, that the young Selena, played by the talented Madison Taylor Baez — who also sings — is one of the positive highlights of the first season of the series.)
Stephanie Bergara, 34, the star of tribute act Bidi Bidi Banda based in Austin, Texas, agrees with Peralta. “I think that the series, if you’re consuming it for entertainment, is really enjoyable. It sheds a lot of light on the rest of the band, but I wish there has been more Selena,” she says. “It’s obvious in the show that she was such a light for her family, but I really do wish that there was more about her making costumes and more about how she was dealing with being in school.”
But Selena’s character is not the only one who is underdeveloped in the series. Selena’s mom Marcella (Seidy López, who also appeared in the 1997 film), appears dull, unlike in the movie, not to mention Pérez, who comes in halfway through the show and whose relationship with Selena is treated as a side note rather than a major storyline. One the other hand, the rest of the Dinos — Joe Ojeda (Carlos Alfredo Jr.), Ricky Vela (Hunter Reese Peña) and Pete Astudillo (Julio Macias) — have gotten more credit than fans expected, which is a good thing.
But Abraham’s character (played by a stern but kind-faced Ricardo Antonio Chavira) is the main focus, and surely the most complex personality — although his possessive demeanor didn’t come across as much as in the film.
“I can’t get over how Abraham Quintanilla (Selena’s father) wrote a whole Netflix series in order to make himself seem like a normal person,” one Twitter user wrote. “Apparently it’s more about him fighting for her career than her actual story as a person and artist (?).”
“I’m not liking the Abraham Quintanilla show…sorry I mean #SelenaNetflix series,” wrote @L_Talavera.
Selena’s brother, A.B. Quintanilla, who so many impersonators and fans have had bad blood with, and who was consulted by producers when making the show, is also treated as a main character with more emotional layers than Selena herself. (A.B. Quintanilla declined to comment for this story.)
Throughout part one of the series, viewers get to witness Abraham’s personal struggles: his need to control his family, his machismo pride and his hunger for success, no matter the cost. It’s telling, fans have noted, that even in this clean-cut version of the family’s story, which he gave his blessing to, those qualities come through, and it may explain why many of the characters — save for Suzette, who was one of the executive producers — appear so hollow.
Where Chris Pérez fits in
What also confused fans was the late introduction of Chris Pérez, who joined the band in 1990, and the blandness of his character compared to the Selena movie.
In the film, his and Selena’s love story is passionately documented early on: their friendship, their secret love affair, their inside jokes and the tension that it all caused for the band. But the show, at least so far, has skipped all of that: Not even Pérez’s friendship with A.B. and Suzette is touched upon, and it’s made to look like his love for Selena was immediate and impulsive, rather than the result of a growing friendship.
Pérez, who spoke to Rolling Stone after the series’ Season One release, says he found it strange and disappointing that nobody reached out or asked for his opinion. After all, they are telling part of his story, through their eyes.
“I really didn’t know much about it or what process they were going through, so there was always that hope that, although we’re going through our legal issues, that somebody would reach out,” he says. “It didn’t necessarily have to be someone from the family, but somebody from production or anything like that, only because I would think that it would help make it a better series; I mean if my input was part of it.”
Pérez explains that he noted some inaccuracies in the series in comparison to the movie — which he says was pretty accurate — at least in terms of how he saw Selena and their relationship develop. “But, I mean, it’s an easily explainable thing,” he says, “in that if she and I were the only ones present, who’s perspective are you gonna believe: The person that was there or the person that’s gonna say they were told something?”
He also admits that he’s “nervous” about how he’ll be portrayed in the second part of the series, and he’s curious to see how they’ll handle the scene where he and Selena decide to elope — if they even include it. “That scene, in particular, was really close to how it happened, down to the dialogue [in the movie], because I spoke about it to the director and writer and to the actors that were in that scene,” he says.
If he had gotten to make his own TV show about Selena — which Abraham halted with a lawsuit in 2016 — he says: “I would definitely have a different perspective.” The one thing that makes him feel better is that no matter what happens in part two, he’s already gotten to tell his side of his story, in his book.
It’s all Selena’s family’s business
Another one of the reasons some fans are having negative reactions to the show is because they believe the Quintanillas are putting up a front onscreen and completely ignoring the many legal and financial problems they have caused ever since they found success thanks to Selena, who died when before her 24th birthday. To understand that, one has to understand Selena super fandom, also known as Selenidad, and the subculture of Selena impersonators that was born two decades after her death.
“I’m on my fifth or sixth Selena at the moment,” Eddie Bevins, the leader of Mexicali-based band Como La Flor band tells Rolling Stone, adding that he’s trained 15 Selena impersonators since 2012. His is just one of the many tribute artists keeping Selena’s spirit alive every day — though the singer’s surviving family doesn’t necessarily see it that way. Over the past few years, impersonators have received threatening emails and calls from the Quintanilla’s company, Q Productions, telling them to stop using Selena’s name and image, and threatening legal action. This has made fans and believe that more than honoring his late daughter’s legacy, Abraham is focused on continuing to make profit off of her name and likeness. (Q Productions and Netflix did not answer requests for comment for this story.)
This theory has only been strengthened by the fact that he is still tied up in legal issues with Chris Pérez, his former son-in-law, whom he snubbed in 1995 after Selena died without leaving a will. Despite staying quiet for years, Pérez is now fighting to get back his free speech and the money he feels he’s owed.
It’s unlikely the legal drama will make its way to the screen, but what has been telling about the new Netflix series is the way in which the family has willingly pushed the narrative of Abraham as the wise patriarch who created a business out of his daughter and managed her money to take care of his family. No one doubts that he was also a caring father, but what his control over the family’s finances has shown, according to many people on the outside, is just how much money has always mattered to him — even if his character in the show denies it repeatedly.
Speaking of his legal fight with Abraham, Pérez says: “It’s an unfortunate situation for everybody involved, but it’s something that I feel had to happen, just with all the circumstances surrounding the  lawsuit and what led up to it and with everything that’s been coming to light.”
He recalled the moment, two months after Selena’s death, when Abraham — having quickly lawyered up to start planning Selena’s posthumous career — cut a deal to distribute her entertainment property between the family members, and offered Pérez a 25 percent share of the net profits; the same amount the singer received. The deal allowed Abraham to keep the full ownership of Selena’s music, image and life rights. Because the singer died at age 23 and had no will, Pérez initially stood to inherit everything she had, but in his grief, he says arranging her finances was the last thing on his mind, and he didn’t see a reason to hire a lawyer when his father-in-law insisted he was doing everyone a favor by arranging them himself.
“Speaking for myself, it was just a horrible time, and I just had complete trust in the situation and who was handling it and everything and no legal representation because why would I need it, right?” Pérez tells Rolling Stone. “So I kind of feel like I’m in a situation where I can’t [back down]. I already did it once and certain things have gone down a certain type of way and I’m not gonna do it that same way again.”
While he initially tried to handle things respectfully, because, he says, “there’s still love there” between him and the Quintanillas, he’s realized that’s simply not going to happen. “At the end of the day, it’s become super apparent to me that it’s all about business,” Pérez explains, “so now things are being done accordingly, in a business environment, as opposed to a, ‘Hey, let’s be friends’ environment.”
Of course, Pérez — who recently found success selling his Pérez Pepper Sauce and is content playing guitar with his band — is one of the many who have experienced the Quintanillas’ legal wrath.
Two years ago, Amanda Solis, a Selena impersonator based in Texas City who recreates the icon’s costumes and shares a striking resemblance to the icon, was blasted by A.B. on Facebook Live for signing her name on a set of Selena CDs for a special needs fan. “When you signed Selena’s CD’s, you passed the line,” Selena’s brother said about Solis in the video, which he later took down. To avoid further problems with the Quintanillas, Solis says she added the words “Selena tribute act” to her promotional materials.
Genessa Escobar, 37, who leads a tribute band in New York City, called Genessa and the Selena Experience, said she received a threatening note from Selena’s father soon after she started impersonating the singer five years ago. “He’s a very proud man. I think he wants to profit from the tributes.” She added that while she believes Quintanilla’s threats are empty “scare tactics,” she and the others follow the rules for fear he’ll shut their music groups down.
Several of the impersonators who spoke to Rolling Stone didn’t feel comfortable sharing their conversations with the Quintanillas on the record for fear of repercussions, but others chose to do so in hopes of putting a stop to the negativity the family has now glued onto Selena’s otherwise inspiring legacy.
One performer forwarded a cease and desist email that she received from Q Productions, asking her to stop using Selena’s name and likeness to promote her own shows, which stated: “Q Productions is the sole and exclusive owner of all rights in and to the name, image and likeness of the artist Selena Quintanilla-Pérez (‘Selena’).”
The family then accused the performer of “unauthorized exploitation” of Selena’s name, and claimed her use of it could “cause irreparable harm and/or dilution” to her brand.
Doris Muñoz, of MIJA MGMT, who has organized Selena-themed performances around the country, says she’s never received a cease and desist because the company has never profited off Selena’s likeness. But in the Covid-19 era, she’s run into some issues, since to host virtual performances one must digitally license the songs, whereas in live performances, you usually don’t have to ask permission to do covers.
To avoid further problems with the Quintanillas, however, her company changed the name of their recent Selena tribute show, Selena for Sanctuary, to Solidarity for Sanctuary. She says she hasn’t watched the Netflix show because of the negative reviews.
Houston-based Selena impersonator Monica Trevino, 39, who has opened shows for Chris Pérez, says she got an email from the Quintanillas, asking her to stop using Selena’s name for her tribute act. “When we got it, it left me really sad, because she’s my idol. It was taken care of, we spoke with them through my agent, but it just made me really sad,” she said. She has since changed the name of her band to Bidibidi Tribute, eliminating Selena’s name from the title entirely. “I understand their concerns when people use her actual logo,” she says. “But I wish they were a little more open to how everyone honors her and pays tribute to her.”
Because most tribute acts are based in Texas, out-of-state impersonators like Ellie Cossio, 45, (based in Mexico), Maria J. Herrera, 32, (based in Chicago) and drag queen performer Princess Aztec, 26, (based in New York City), have not run into many issues with the Quintanillas. However, they all said they’ve heard about the restrictions the estate has created and the threats other performers have received.
Even Selena fan accounts on Instagram and Facebook have gotten the cold shoulder from the family, and various users have said it’s common knowledge that as soon as you market yourself as a Selena fan account, A.B. blocks you.
Cashing in on Selena
What’s ironic about Abraham’s legal threats against the fans allegedly trying to profit off his late daughter’s likeness is the fact that he’s profited more than anyone. Even in the Selena series, it’s apparent that, because he formed the band, he’s always viewed their money as rightfully belonging to him. An example of this is shown in episode four, when Abraham tells his wife he’s taken out a loan to buy three houses on the block and knows he’ll be able to pay it all back because his kids are about to land a major deal with CBS Records.
Abraham runs Selena’s estate, and shortly after her death signed on to executive-produce the 1997 film about her life, which grossed over $35 million. He’s also released a Selena debit card and collaborated on a MAC Cosmetics Selena makeup line in 2016 — and again last year. “I’m excited about this launch, and clearly it represents a very important moment in my sister’s legacy and what she represents to her audience and to her fanbase,” Quintanilla said publicly. “I think that this also is a representation and a celebration of, not just her as an artist but also her as a Latina and a role model.”
In 2019, Forever21 launched a Selena collection, made possible by the estate, which they advertised with gusto via a public relations firm, and which they put back in stock, just in time for the 25th anniversary of Selena’s death. Abraham also filed trademark applications and licensed a Selena Funko Pop doll (dressed in the Queen of Tejano’s signature purple jumpsuit). Plus, the family hosts the annual Fiesta de la Flor in Selena’s honor — which brings in plenty of cash — and continues to make money off her hits.
This year, however, the tables have turned for Abraham, as the producer of the Selena movie, Moctesuma Esparza, is suing him (as well as Suzette and Netflix) for allegedly ignoring a previous agreement they had about creating a Selena series together. He is seeking $1 million. (Netflix did not respond to requests for comment.)
Selena and the Latino community
One positive thing most impersonators and fans have agreed on is that the Netflix show is a big win for the Latino community and for Tejano music, as it hit Number One on the TV charts almost as soon as it was released, and it introduces plenty of key artists, like Laura Canales, who may not be known to the young generations watching Netflix today, especially in the U.S.
“It is super important for Latino shows like these to be created. It lets the world know that we are also American and we have always been part of this American dream,” Angel Rodriguez, a Selena fan from Sacramento, Calif., tells Rolling Stone. “We work hard, we make sacrifices and we are willing to go as far as we need to to make our dreams come true. It also showcases how much we value family.”
“I really think the Tejano elements were the crowning achievement of the show,” Bergara, of Bidibidi Banda, says. “I cried real big tears because I spent my whole life thinking Laura Canales was just this person who I and my friends knew about, but now the world knows about her. All the nods [to the Texan community] were subtle, but if you grew up in Texas in the Eighties and Nineties, you know exactly who these people are.”
But fans have not always relied on the Quintanillas to embrace Selena’s stance as an icon for Mexican Americans — a community that desperately needs someone to look up to, now more than ever.
As one source explained (who asked to remain anonymous since they have run into issues with the Quintanillas as of late), they spoke to a Quintanilla family member about a tribute act they were planning with the intention of helping unify Mexican Americans during a time of racial reckoning. But the family member insisted that they did not want Selena’s name tied to anything political, according the source, who added that it was “frustrating” because the family continues to make money off of Selena’s catalog “that is championed by a community that is literally going through genocide right now.” As they explained, the fans and performers were hoping to bring their community together with Selena’s because her “music is a universal language.”
When Selena was alive, many Mexicans living in Mexico thought of her as pocha — a not-so endearing term meant for “chicano” folk who speak “Spanglish.” At the same time, many Americans living in the U.S. thought of her as too Mexican to relate to, especially since most of her songs were in Spanish — a language she had to learn to appeal to her Latino audience. It’s because of this cultural struggle that Mexican Americans felt so understood by her.
“I think she was probably one of the first women to have it all,” Herrera says. “She was also very, very humble. She had the whole package, and back then, we [Mexican-Americans] didn’t have that representation.”
In the end, the new Netflix series does let viewers in on some surprisingly candid and joyful moments of Selena’s life on the road with her family, but it ultimately falls short when it comes to the star’s personality and glosses over the tension that fans know has long existed behind the scenes.
Pérez says Selena was always very private about her political and religious views, so he isn’t sure how she would have reacted to today’s political climate. Still, he understands why people see her as a symbol for the community. “I think it’s because of what she represents, which is strong morals, family, hard work ethic, you know, she was a good person all the way around, and we already know how talented she was,” he says. “So, if that’s how people want to use her image or treat it, I mean, I think it’s a good thing.”