Jennifer Lopez, Edward James Olmos, Constance Marie, Jon Seda, Lupe
Ontiveros, Jacob Vargas. Directed by Gregory Nava. (128/134 min)
ON BLU-RAY FROM
by Stinky the Destroyer😸
remember when Selena died. It was all over the news for about a day,
after which I went on with my life without giving her another
thought. Of course it’s tragic when anyone so young is
senselessly murdered, but it ain’t like she was a cultural icon
like John Lennon...or even Kurt Cobain.
Hollywood made a movie about her. Pretty quickly, actually,
considering Selena was written, cast, produced and released
less than two years after her death. But even though I’ve always
enjoyed a good music bio, no way was she already a legend (we
waited 28 years for Richie Valens' life story). The movie sounded like a cynical
cash-grab to me, so I took a pass.
that was 30-year-old me talking. More specifically, the 30-year-old
white me. To be even more exact, the 30-year-old white me
whose definition of popular culture was shaped by his environment. It
took a career change for me to stop sniffing my own farts.
1997, I was earning a degree in education and did my student teaching
at Sunnyside High School in a rural community that was roughly 60%
Hispanic. Not only was it the first time I’d been in a public
classroom in 20 years, it was the first time I’d been around large
groups of teenagers since the days I was one. And without a
doubt, it was the only time I ever found myself being the
whitest guy in the room.
|Selena and the Dinos learn they lost the talent show to a kid who squirts milk out his nose.|
teaching was pretty interesting. In addition to English – my actual
major - I was also afforded the opportunity to create curriculum and
teach a class called Media Studies, which focused on the impact of television, advertising, music and cinema on modern
culture. For the music unit, I chose a few films about some of rock
music’s biggest legends to show their lasting influence on popular
music. but the class was largely unimpressed and even The Beatles were
just four funny-looking British blokes from “The Hippy Days.”
Dumbass teenagers. To my dismay, they made it clear that everything
which existed before they were born – including me – was from The
Hippy Days. With hindsight, I should’ve taken a clue on my first
day of class, when one kid asked if I fought in Vietnam.
That’s right, kid...me and a troop of fellow
toddlers took Hamburger Hill back in ‘69.
I think this also when it slowly dawned on me that my
definition of popular culture may also be from The Hippy Days.
what music is important to you?” I finally asked the class.
“Nirvana?” (a few nods and shrugs). “Tupac?” (which I
pronounced, Tu-pack, triggering a tidal wave of laughter at my
we watch the Selena movie?” one girl asked, which got a
chorus of approval from a majority of her classmates.
Showing that movie never occurred to me. Why would it? Even at the
advanced age of 33, I knew Tejano music’s cultural impact was
negligible. Still, since I had already scrapped plans to enlighten
them on the importance of the punk rock movement, I relented and
picked up a copy of the film at my local video store.
an old saying that “good teachers never stop learning.” If that’s
true, the first lesson of my new career came the day we watched
Selena in class. The film opens
with her performing before 67,000 people at the Houston Astrodome,
bigger than any crowd who paid to see those funny-looking British
blokes at the height of their popularity. Afterwards, the story
focuses on Selena’s upbringing, blossoming career and meteoric rise
to stardom. Played as an adult by Jennifer Lopez, she not-only packed
arenas, won Grammys and sold a shit-ton of records, her image was so
popular that she opened a chain of namesake boutiques which sold
Selena-inspired clothing. Funny...I don’t recall ever seeing any
Nirvana shops...not even in Seattle.
|"Hey, 'Balls to the Wall!' That's my jam!"|
was never mistaken for a complex, dirt-filled tell-all. Anchored by a
star-making performance from Lopez, the film plays more like an
engaging, affectionate eulogy celebrating the singer’s life, talent
and oh-so-brief moment in the sun, its sunny tone only changing
during the inevitable conclusion. But even then, the circumstances
surrounding her murder are only briefly touched upon and the incident
itself is - mercifully - not shown. The result is a coda that’s
arguably more poignant than tragically downbeat.
course, Selena is also filled with music - from traditional
Tejano to modern pop – which a lot of the students in class knew by
heart. A few sang along during the concert scenes and many more were
sniffing-back tears by the time the movie was over. Ultimately,
I learned something you don’t pick up in a college course: Cultural
importance is relative. If nothing else, the film made me appreciate
just how popular and influential Selena Quintanilla was to an entire
culture and generation...right under my nose. So my initial
assessment of her worth was woefully ignorant. She was indeed as
iconic as Kurt Cobain, her murder as tragic as John Lennon’s.
like other phenoms taken away too soon, Selena’s music and image
remains relevant today. I’ve been teaching for over twenty years
and still see many of my Hispanic kids – who weren’t even alive
when she was killed - keeping the torch burning with Selena t-shirts
they buy at Forever 21, or listening to her music on their phones
when they think I’m not paying attention. It’s a tribute to her
cultural legacy no different from the Steve McQueen t-shirt I
sometimes throw-on for casual Friday (though none of my students know
who the fuck he is).
the end, Selena isn’t a revealing biography, but its subject
is insanely likable and her story is mostly upbeat and entertaining.
Additionally, it’s impossible to walk away without respecting the long-lasting impact she had on Tejano music and
the legions of fans who loved her.
QUEEN OF TEJANO” - Selena’s surviving family members discuss
her life, career and influence.
OF SELENA” 10 YEARS LATER” - Retrospective
documentary featuring Lopez, Edward James Olmos (who plays Selena’s
father/manager), writer/director Gregory Nava.
PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHINDS THE EARS.