In 2010, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and film director David Fincher ignited controversy with their scathing Mark Zuckerberg biopic “The Social Network.” The film took liberties that most filmmakers wouldn’t dare to attempt. It invented characters who never existed, casted heavy judgment on its protagonist and blatantly lied about various events. As a result, it was a massive success. So few biopics are remembered like this one, and that’s because Sorkin and Fincher kept its themes at the forefront. They unearthed dark truths about humanity in the digital age, and if doing so properly meant they had to fudge a few details, then so be it.
“Selena: The Series” takes place on the exact opposite end of the spectrum. The first installment follows the Mexican-American icon from birth to celebrity. With an extremely hands-on role from Selena’s family — the show was executive produced by her father and sister — it keeps the details as safe, smooth and non-polarizing as possible. And it couldn’t be more artificial.
Perhaps the only major decision the creators made was to make no decisions at all. Every time the show approaches a more uncomfortable, intriguing issue, it runs in the opposite direction. All of part one feels like a reenactment of Selena’s “Early Life” section on Wikipedia, and if that’s the case, why even make a biopic at all?
This is the inevitable problem with biopics, one that is very common. To make something that feels authentic and profound, while also pleasing its real life subjects, is a near impossible task. People paint themselves in a brighter light than what is truthful, and when you rely too heavily on their word, you stray away from honesty.
In “Selena: The Series” it becomes increasingly apparent that the writers had no interest in anything but the approval of the family. Consequently, the series took one of the most beloved pop stars ever, and turned her story into a cheap, rags to riches family drama with virtually no value at all.
In fact, the show relies so heavily on the word of its family members that Selena almost feels like a minor character. Played first by child actor Madison Taylor Baez, and more significantly by “The Walking Dead” star Christian Serratos, it’s such a massive misstep to push Selena to the side, when the actors who play her are the only natural part of the show. Serratos, specifically, is absolutely radiant. It’s another case where the writers’ refusal to take risks gets in the way, and because Selena isn’t alive to share her perspective, she ends up being talked about more than she is given agency.
“Selena: The Series,” instead, is clearly about her father Abraham (Ricardo Chavira, “Narco Soldiers”). His character is portrayed exactly how you would think someone would describe themself. He’s tough on his children, never giving them approval or letting them make their own decisions, but of course, this makes him the wisest of the family. Within the context of the show he functions as the necessary leader who makes his family’s dreams come true.
I’m not saying we need to villainize everyone, but when I watch this man consistently place brutal expectations on his children, I cringe. It must have been more unhealthy of a relationship than the show lets on, yet that perspective is hardly explored.
Still, if you’re looking to learn about the story of Selena at its most simple, factual and unchallenging, it’s not a painful watch. A few interesting themes about the way women are commodified in the music industry are touched on, and like I mentioned, Serrattos is fantastic. Additionally it’s nice to see that the family of Selena got the respect that I’m sure they deserved.
However, that’s all this series really was: nice. After nine episodes, I still don’t really know who Selena is as a person. Not to mention the visual aesthetic of a minivan commercial, I really think there’s better ways to tell this story.
But hey, at least we got a solid soundtrack out of it.
Daily Arts Writer Ben Servetah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.