Q&A: 25 Years of Selena, the Movie

Director Gregory Nava speaks on the legacy of the film, and how it intertwines with the late Tejano star’s continued popularity
Director Gregory Nava reflects on the legacy of his film “Selena” on the 25th anniversary and re-release in theaters. Photo Credit: Gregory Nava

Arturo Hilario
El Observador

In the early nineties the regional southwestern US style of music known as Tejano was having a major impact on the national stage, boosted in large part by one genre breaking star.

Selena Quintanilla Pérez is a name now synonymous with the Latinx experience in America and her style and flair as a pop icon is recognized worldwide. At the tragic time of her death in March 1995, the Mexican-American vocalist was already in the stratosphere in terms of popularity within Spanish-speaking audiences, but was poised to become a cemented pop icon with crossover appeal had she lived.

Although her legacy of work ended at her passing, her legacy as a brilliant spotlight representative of Mexican-American identity and role model to generations of her fans continues to this day.

One of the people that contributed in a big way to that continued popularity is Gregory Nava, the director of the film biopic “Selena”, which took moviegoers on an emotional, elating journey through the life of the Tejano singer only two years removed from her loss.

For the 25th anniversary of the film’s release, Warner Bros Pictures is re-releasing “Selena” in theaters from April 7th – 10th.

Nava recently chatted about his experience in creating this essential piece of Selena media, and how 25 years after its release this film still holds up as a compelling look at the music icon – one that was created with love and care, and which continues to be quoted verbatim by old and new fans alike.

Hello Gregory, very thankful for the time.

A real pleasure to talk to you. And a real honor. And by the way, I love San Jose. I’ve been to the film festival there, and it’s a great, great city, fantastic city. And our community is very strong. You know, this is one of the first cities in California that was founded by Californios back in the 1800s. And so it’s one of our greatest cities with one of our greatest Latino communities.

I’m very excited that we are all going to have a chance to see Selena on the big screen. And it’s celebrating its 25th anniversary. This is a tremendous opportunity for the fans of Selena to see the movie as it was meant to be seen on the big screen. For those that saw the movie when it was originally released, great. And for all the new generations that have only seen the movie on TV, this is an opportunity to really see it the way it was meant to be seen on the big screen in the theater.

Speaking of the legacy of Selena and your film, I was wondering what you are most proud of looking back at the work you did on “Selena”?

Well, I think the thing I’m most proud of is the fact that everybody who worked on the movie, Jennifer, I mean, what an amazing performance, Eddie, all of the technical crew, everybody really gave not their A-game, their triple-A game because we were so moved and inspired by the life of this young woman who was taken from us far too soon. And we wanted to bring her light, to preserve it and to bring it to the country and the world. And everybody worked so hard to do that.

And I really feel that by doing that, we were blessed by Selena’s light, that she was with us when we made this film.

Seeing the success that it has had and through so many years, this is a surprise for everybody because movies don’t get re-released 25 years after they’ve been made in theaters across the country. That doesn’t happen. But that’s the magic of Selena. Right? She has that magic. She’s still overcoming obstacles that are impossible with her life and with her legacy. But really, it’s more than a legacy because I feel that Selena is still with us and that she still lives because she lives through her beautiful spirit.

And the film is so important to our community, but it’s really broken through because everywhere I go, when I tell people or when they find out I made “Selena”, it doesn’t matter what their background is. They all go crazy. “I love that movie! It’s so beautiful.”

Her story is universal. And now with the movie, it’s gone all over the world. The Quintanilla family told me people come from China, they come from Africa, they come from France, they come from Germany. They come from everywhere to see the Selena Museum in Corpus Christi. So her light really is still shining bright. And I think that is what me and Jennifer and everybody who made the film are most proud of, that we were part of this beautiful legacy that is Selena’s life.

Now could you take us back to before the film was made, when you first were given the reins to this story. How did you want to tell it and what were your feelings about taking on the project?

Well, you know, I really was moved by it. I was taking a walk in my neighborhood in Los Angeles, and I met these two young girls, eight and ten years old, and they had Selena T shirts and they were Mexican. And I asked them, “why do you love Selena?” And they said, “because she looks like us.”

It really touched my heart because I went, “these young women, these young girls, they don’t have any images on the screen of anybody like them.” You know, they don’t have that. “They have no Princess. There’s no Disney Latina Princess. They don’t have anything. And this means the world to them to see themselves represented on the screen.”

And I thought, “I’m going to make this movie and I’m going to make it for them. I want to fill their heart with Selena’s life. I will do everything I can to do that.” And now, 25 years later, those young girls are all grown up, they all have daughters, and they’re all dressed like Selena, and they’re all celebrating Selena. And now after April 7th, they’ll all have a chance to go back to the theaters and see the movie once again.

There’s nothing like seeing the movie on the big screen. All of the music, all of the drama, the humor, the love that’s in that film is so much more powerful on the big screen. So if people want to know where the movie is playing and how to buy tickets, you can go to the website, which is selena25anniversary.com, they put in their postal code and the theaters in their area will appear and they can buy their tickets there online.

If you love Selena, don’t miss this opportunity. It never happens. The fact that we’re back in theaters is once again due to the magic of Selena.

Do you have a favorite moment or scene(s) in the film? And has that favorite scene changed through the course of the history of the film?

Well, I think that obviously the opening scene of the Houston Astrodome concert is so amazing. And that was such an emotional scene to film. And I really have to thank the Tejano community. Without their help, we could not have realized this movie because 35 thousand people came for free to fill the Stadium for that scene.

They stayed all day, 35 thousand people! That never happens. And so we were blessed with their help and their love on making that particular film. But that’s what Selena inspires in all of us. And that was so emotional, the family was there and Jennifer and we were all weeping and we were all cheering and it was very moving. And I think that scene is one I’m very proud of.

But the scene that really surprised me [was] when we did the scene where the Cholos in the low rider helped try to pull the bus out of the ditch and the guy goes, “anything for Salinas.” It’s just amazing to me how “Anything for Salinas” is like everywhere. I mean, I go to East LA, there’s “Anything for Salinas” t shirts, “Anything for Salinas” coffee mugs everywhere you go. “Anything for Salinas” has become this mantra with the movie.

And I have to say that that really surprised me because of how huge that became. And it was delightful and it really is part of the legacy of “Selena” and one of the most loved scenes in the film. Another scene that really is one of the most loved scenes in the film that I remember is the washing machine [scene], where Selena’s mother, played by Constance Marie, who did a fantastic job, is teaching little Selena how to dance a Cumbia, and they do the washing machine, and everybody loves that as well.

These are human moments that I wanted to bring to the screen about familia -because so much of this movie is about familia. And familia is so important to us and to our community. And that’s so much of what Selena’s story is about, her family and her relationship with her father and her mother and her siblings and also her journey to find her own heart and her own independence and through her relationship with Chris Perez. So it becomes a family story and a story of a young woman finding her center and her talent and who she really.

It really speaks to not just the Latino community, but as I said, to the whole country and now to people throughout the world, they really love and respond to Selena’s story. And that, I think, is something that really, you know, I love.

Another moment that I always hear about is when Abraham, played by Eddie Olmos, is in the van and they’re discussing about whether or not they should go to Monterrey, Mexico, and he goes, “it’s tough to be a Mexican-American. We got to speak Spanish better than Mexicans. We got to speak English better than Americans. Gringo food is too bland for us but when we go to Mexico, we get the runs. That’s embarrassing.”

That whole speech that he gives in the van is one that people memorize. They quote it like word for word, right? It really reflects our ethos of being Latinos and Chicanos in the United States. So that’s another one that really amazed me at how much that affected people and how much it expressed how they feel about their place. So the movie has a lot of resonance in a lot of different ways, really. It touches us very deeply in the story of our family as well.

Very great. Thank you so much for your time, Gregory.

I want everybody in town to come after April 7, go to selena25anniversary.com. Find out your theaters, find out you get your tickets, everybody comes to see the movie, bring your family and when it’s all over, we’ll all get together and we’ll say, “anything for Salinas!”

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