Selena (1997)

Selena is Jennifer Lopez’s greatest contribution to mankind.

In a revelatory, and ultimately star-making performance, Miss Lopez brings to vivid life the life and times of the late Selena Quintanilla, Tejano star on the brink of crossover success. This was filmed during her early acting days and inspired her to pursue a musical career – the dance moves and (lip) singing aren’t J. Lo as we know her today, but J. Lo the actress. How she pulls off the passion, enthusiasm, and poise of an extremely talented performer, as a young actress and (at the time) non-performer, is a testament to the acting chops of Miss Lopez.

Even beyond the lead performance, Selena is a top-notch musical drama. The song sequences are shot masterfully, including a believable recreation of her massive concert in the Astrodome and playing a chaotic music festival in Mexico. These scenes boast dizzying camerawork and electrifying editing as good as anything in The Rose. (The songs themselves are excellent, too: my favorites are “Como la Flor” and “Amor Prohibido.”)

Life stories are not easy to aggregate into filmic experiences, but Selena chugs through the singer’s life in broad detail. It covers the better-known and essential events of her life, such as moving homes, key performances, and awards shows, while taking the time to dive deeper issues of sexism, racism, and acceptance. In one of the best non-musical scenes, Selena’s father laments to her and her brother that, as Americans of Mexican descent, in order to fit in with either culture “[they] have to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans, both at the same time! It’s exhausting!”

Selena is the story of a young, supremely talented woman upon whom tragedy befell so early in life. This film is not only her story, but a broader collective of experiences and attitudes of an America not-too-long ago, where not enough has changed. It’s not hard to see why Selena was and is so special for so many people, an innovator in her own time and continuing to inspire today.

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