It’s been 20 years since Jennifer Lopez rose to fame playing the role of Tejano superstar Selena Quintanilla in the singer's posthumous biopic, Selena. To honor the occasion, ET visited Selena’s hometown, Corpus Christi, Texas, to commemorate the film’s anniversary and speak with her father, Abraham, and sister, Suzette. ET was exclusively with the Quintanillas at the family’s Selena Museum as they reflected on the iconic movie and paid tribute to the beloved entertainer, daughter and sister they lost too soon.
“I wanted the world to know about my kids, and my daughter,” Abraham, 78, explained of his decision to make a movie about Selena’s life not long after her 1995 death. Abraham served as the film’s executive producer and had creative control over every aspect, from the script to casting.
Suzette, 49, added that it was crucial the family had a strong say in production, insisting Selena be portrayed “in the right light, in the right way,” noting it was particularly important that “everything was based on our life, the true way.”
After a nationwide search, a then-27-year-old Lopez landed the coveted role. Soon after, she moved in with Suzette to prepare. The family remembers being awestruck the first time they saw the actress in full hair and makeup. “I said, ‘Wow!’’ Abraham exclaimed.
“She gave me chills… I literally, for a split second, I thought it was my sister,” Suzette recalled.
Abraham and Suzette also deciphered Selena fact from fiction, clarifying the accuracy of some of the film’s most memorable moments.
Unfortunately, Selena’s mother, Marcella, never taught her how to dance “the washing machine.” That never happened. However, Abraham was truly shocked the first time he saw his daughter perform in a bustier.
Two gentlemen actually did try to pull the band’s tour bus out of a ditch with their convertible – and yes, they ultimately coined the phrase, “Anything for Selenas!”
And yes, Selena and her husband, Chris Perez, were first outed as a couple after Abraham caught them flirting on the bus. Abraham explained why he was initially enraged about the pair’s relationship, saying, “You have to understand my point of view, how I see things. I didn’t know Chris that well. What if he was a macho type, a machista, because there have been incidents, like they get married and say, ‘Well, you’re not going to sing no more.’ And all the work, all the sacrifices that we’ve done, will go down the tube.”
But it was the couple’s elopement that Abraham had difficulty integrating into the movie. He initially requested the scene be removed from the script after he read it because, “Selena has a lot of young girls as fans and I don’t want them to think that that’s the right thing to do.”
Looking back, the father-of-three says he wishes he had handled Selena’s relationship with Chris differently. “I feel bad that I was over-strict, too strict, that I put her in that situation where [she felt she had to elope].”
One might assume it was a difficult decision to include Selena’s death in the film, but her family said they never gave it a second thought. “It was a true happening. She was killed. We didn’t go into details, but we did show what happened to her,” Abraham said. Echoing her father’s sentiments, Suzette added, “I think it was done tastefully. It’s definitely a hard thing to watch.”
To this day, Abraham has only seen the ending of Selena once, during a screening with executives from Warner Bros. before the film’s release.
“We’re programmed emotionally and spiritually to accept that the older folks go first, but when your child goes first, it’s a different kind of pain,” Abraham lamented. “In my mind, she’s still alive, because you get involved with all her things and doing things for her every day that sometimes I forget that she’s not here with us anymore. So in a sort of way, it’s hard to explain, in my mind, she’s alive.”
Suzette said she is still plagued by anger when she thinks about how her sister’s life was taken when she was just 23 years old. “Clearly, yeah there’s anger… We do not speak of the person that took her life. We do not give focus to that person at all. It’s all about Selena in our heart... one day she’ll be resurrected and we’ll see her again.”
Ultimately, the Quintanillas want Selena to be remembered as a “giving person” with a “sweet personality” who was “always happy.” 22 years after her passing, it’s safe to say, their mission has been accomplished.