Selena Quintanilla is remembered as "The Queen of Tejano," a Tex-Mex sound that combines American and Mexican styles to create something truly unique. Her life and music truly captured both sides of the term, "Latina-American." In March of 1995, while recording her crossover album, Dreaming of You, she was murdered by her fan club president, who had been embezzling money from Selena and her family. It was a senseless crime that stuck down a massively talented artist just as she was about to fulfill her destiny as a pop superstar for the ages.

Two years later, Selena's life was immortalized through the film, Selena, written and directed by Gregory Nava (El Norte, My Family). In addition to its status as an incredible tribute to the artist, the movie also turned its young lead, Jennifer Lopez, into a movie star. The film also stars Edward James Olmost, Constance Marie, Jon Seda. Between the true story of Selena's life, the irrepressible power of her music, and a career-affirming performance from Lopez, Selena is remembered as one of the greatest rock and roll biopics ever made. It's as sincere and entertaining as it is triumphant and tragic.

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While promoting the release of Selena on Blu-ray, Nava spoke to Screen Rant about making a movie for Latino-Americans, working alongside Selena's family in telling her story, and shooting the film's spectacular musical sequences. He also discusses the uphill battle he faced when the studio tried to cast a white actress as Selena. Fortunately, Nava and the rest of the filmmakers were able to ensure that a genuine Latina actress would play the role.

Selena releases May 19 on Blu-ray, via the Warner Bros. Archive Collection.

I don't know if I can fully articulate just how important your movie, Selena, was for me growing up. My mom is Honduran, so I'm first-generation Latino-American on her side, and this movie really captures both sides of that term, "Latino-American."

That's what we set out to do. I'm so happy that you love the movie. We worked so hard to capture our culture and to capture Selena's life, and I have to give a shout-out to Jennifer Lopez and the Quintanilla family, and the people of Texas. They all came together to make this film the special film that it is. And the biggest shout-out to Selena herself. There's a magic in the film, and I think it's because the spirit of Selena was with us when we made it.

My mom always made sure I knew Pedro Infante and Celia Cruz in addition to Elvis and The Beatles, and we were definitely a big Selena house, even before Dreaming of You.

It's tough to be a Mexican-American! It just makes us all the richer, as a result.

I feel that way, completely. So, kinda building off that, at one point in the movie, they're watching the concert, and they're talking about the prospect of Selena recording an album in English, and Edward James Olmos has that incredible line, "We've been ready for a long time."

It's a strong statement. No matter what we do, no matter how long we're here... My father fought in World War II. But there's always this journey to, "When are we really going to be accepted?" You see now, in our current administration, they're putting children in cages and separating families, and you go, "When is it going to happen?" There were deportations in the 1930s, where they deported everybody of Mexican heritage – millions of people – to make jobs for "real Americans." And most of these people were citizens of the United States. And one of them was my grandfather, who was deported in 1931, and my family was split up. Despite that fact, my father served in World War II. We're always having this struggle. So when Selena does her English-language album, it's such a great moment, and you know that she's crossed over. We love her, we love Selena in our community, because she had that special light. Her spirit lives on with us, and is an inspiration to us all to this day.

Absolutely, and the movie is an important part of that legacy.

I'm so happy that the movie has been able to keep this light alive, you know? And it's not just with the Latino community. It's crossed over completely to the whole country. Young women and people all over the country love her, and now the whole world. The Quintanilla family told me that people come from China, France, Ethiopia, from everywhere, to visit the Selena museum, and it's because they see the movie. I'm so proud that we were able to bring her light to the world.

The movie was controversial for how quickly it was put into development, but it's since been understood that you and Abraham and everyone who made the movie, you needed to be the ones to draw the line, to define her life before the gossip and tabloids took it away from you.

Exactly. That was the family's primary concern. They wanted to have their legacy cemented in a positive, beautiful way. She was a positive beautiful young woman. It was tragic that she was taken from us so soon. The wisdom they displayed in wanting to make that film was, again, I think it was Selena's spirit. And again, here you have the perfect actress to play her, Jennifer Lopez. She had the same journey and is super talented. They're the two greatest icons of our community. Both women, Jennifer Lopez, and Selena, they meet in this film. Something like that has never happened in the history of film. It was very special. I think it's another example of Selena's light being with us, and guiding us.

I know there was some flak because Jennifer is Puerto Rican and not Mexican, but for me, in my house, it was not an issue. We're Honduran, and we lived in the Bronx. And when my parents told me that a Latina from the Bronx could become a movie star and a famous singer, that just took my imagination to a whole new place, it made the world seem more open to me.

It's funny, because I had to fight to get a Latina the part!


The studio, the way they think is, like, "Well, we've got the hispanic audience because it's Selena, so let's get a white girl to play Selena, and then we can get the Anglo audience!"

Oh boy.

And we were like, oh no. Nooooooo. We were very stubborn. "We're getting a Latina to play Selena, punto final." So then when people say, "You got the wrong kind of Latina," I'm like, "Oh please." People don't understand how hard we had to fight. But they also didn't understand that Jennifer had to fight for that role. We auditioned thousands of young women for that part. We picked twelve and did very in-depth auditions, including Jennifer. And she worked hard. When we saw those auditions, it was clear, this was the actress to play Selena. She channelled her so beautifully. Jennifer is a brilliant actress. She's a great singer and a great dancer, but her greatest talent is as an actress, and you see that on screen. The minute we did that Houston Astrodome concert scene, with 35,000 extras, everybody fell in love with Jennifer as Selena. Then, when the movie came out, there was no question. It's regarded as one of the greatest performances in the history of musical biopics, and it certainly is that.

I'm thinking about how so many of my childhood heroes, all of whom were rock and rollers, were taken down, one way or the other, so long before their time. I'm thinking of Elvis, Selena, John Lennon, Richie Valens, all of these people gave us a fraction of what they had to offer, but I still, with all my heart, believe that it was enough for each of them to change the world. The world would be different without them.

Absolutely. She was such a special young women. She was super talented, but one thing that really struck me, in doing all the interviews... The family and her friends, and her husband, Chris Perez, were so open with me. They shared so much. It was clear that, over and above her incredible musical talent, she had this ability to touch people's hearts in a way that was very special. That really impressed me. I felt, if we could capture that on the screen, and that was our greatest challenge, then she could continue to touch people's hearts throughout the world. I'm so happy that the film was able to accomplish that.

And now a whole new generation can experience the movie in HD.

This Blu-ray is more than just the movie. It has extras. We did an extended version of the film for television with more scenes and more musical numbers. And people are always asking me, how did you do this? How did you make this movie? There's a beautiful documentary that we shot, with interviews with me, with Jennifer, with the Quintanilla family, talking about how we made the film. And all these outtakes of scenes, a whole bunch of scenes that didn't appear in either version of the film. So you can see more scenes with Jennifer and Eddie and everybody. I know, for her fans, this is going to be very special. So, May 19, people can sit at home and once again enjoy the wonderful story of Selena and her family.

In the movie, I love that there's so many complete musical performances. I find that to be such a crucial element of a rock and roll biopic, and so many of these movies drop the ball and speed through them and cut away after just a few seconds, and that is always such a waste to me. In Selena, there's that incredible Como la Flor sequence, with the, I don't know if it's supposed to be a Woodstock homage, but that triple split-screen, it's just beautiful, very much like the classic Woodstock movie. I love that so much. The movie really lets the music speak for itself.

I'll tell you why the film is done that way. I conceived of the musical numbers differently. In those musical biopics, it's like you see the story, and then it stops to do a musical number, and then they start with the story again. I went, I don't want to do it that way. To me, all of the music parallels emotional changes in her life, and her development as a person. All the musical numbers, I saw as a continuity. They're all dramatic scenes. You see her, that first big number with Jennifer, where she takes her jacket off and the bustier, and then the first big moment, that Monterey concert, where she has to calm the crowd and she becomes one with her audience. That's where she becomes a superstar, because she rises to the occasion in that moment. Each musical number is dramatic. And then the Bidi Bidi Bom Bom scene is her independence. She has now become an independent woman. She's married Chris, she's gotten her family to accept it, she's gone against the will of her father and become her own person, and Bidi Bidi Bom Bom is a celebration of that. All these musical numbers are part of her life, and they're dramatic scenes, so the continuity is absolutely smooth throughout each one. Cinematically, I wanted to find ways in order to make the audience feel those changes. So we did that beautiful triptych in the Monterey concert, with her and the fans around her. So you can really feel her and the sun and moon, the elements were with her, and the fans were with her, and they all become one, and then it finishes with that blossoming flower, Como la Flor. We wanted to use each cinema in order to underlie the drama of what was happening with Selena's life in that time. I'm so happy you noticed that, because we really worked hard at doing those musical numbers. I think they're very important. Each song meant something to her development as a woman.

Finally, take me back to the beginning. What was it like when the movie was first brought to you, were you apprehensive, or like, "Let's go!"

I had a big hit with Mi Familia (My Family), and people thought I was the right filmmaker to do this. I had to make the decision whether or not to do it, but many people, including my representation, were advising me against it. So I was thinking about it. I thought it was a very important film to make for our community. So, I was walking in my neighborhood in Venice, California, where there are a lot of Mexican-Americans, a lot of Chicanos like myself and Mexicanos. And I encountered these two young girls, Mexican-American girls. One was eight, and one was ten years old. And they had Selena t-shirts. And I asked them, "Why do you love Selena?" And they said, "Because she looks like us." And that really touched me deeply, and I thought, at that moment, I would make this film. I knew that our young people needed to see themselves on the screen. They needed their princess. So I said, I'm going to make this movie for these young girls. It was a really powerful moment for me. And then we had a 20th anniversary screening a couple of years ago, and six thousand people came! And I saw all these grown-up girls with their own daughters, all dressed up like Selena. And everybody danced with the film, they knew all the dialogue. It was a total celebration, and I thought, oh my goodness, we succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. The film is more popular today than when it was first released. Again, I think that's due to the spirit of Selena that was with us.

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Selena releases May 19 on Blu-ray, via the Warner Bros. Archive Collection.