The 2018 announcement that a scripted Selena series was coming to Netflix was met with equal parts fanfare and trepidation. There can be no such thing as too much Selena in one’s life, but would the powers that be at Netflix do enough to elevate Selena’s story from that of a well-known tragedy to a genuine celebration of the singer’s life and music? When the first season of the series premiered in 2020, audiences had their answer, which was a resounding no. But now writers for the show are explaining that Netflix and their reluctance to invest in one of the most iconic Latine stories in American pop culture was the true reason why Selena: The Series fell so flat.
According to the L.A. Times, the show was “ordered as a Latin American original, with a modest budget to match — well under $2 million per episode.” In the world of production, $2 million is equivalent to the average person being given $50 to make enough meals to feed a hundred people—and that money has to cover groceries, utensils, and renting out a space in which to cook. Sure, you’ll be able to make something with that, but will it be satisfying? Doubtful! The Times also notes that another period piece with very specific costume requirements, The Crown, had a budget of $13 million per episode. While Selena wasn’t rocking tiaras, a fully bedazzled wardrobe isn’t free.
Henry Robles, a co-executive producer on the show, told the Times, “The show sort of experienced what Selena experienced,” referring to the inability of record companies to find a way to market Selena when she crossed over to English language music and the American music market. Netflix simply didn’t see Selena as an inherently American story—about the children of immigrants giving up everything they had in the pursuit of some widely accepted notion of success—that could be marketed as such. Instead, they chose to pigeonhole it into a Latin American category, as if the name Selena doesn’t have a global reach.
Because the show was given such a measly budget per episode, Netflix was also able to take advantage of a loophole in negotiations with the Writers Guild of America, which allowed them to pay a room full of Latine writers “between 30% and 50% per week less working on the series, which was filmed in Mexico, than is typical for equivalent roles on those produced in the U.S.”
Glady Rodriguez, a co-executive producer for the series, said, “I feel like our work was cheapened from the start. We were never given a fair chance. Representation is what we want but it goes beyond that—we want to be treated equally.” But alas—if a universally beloved subject such as Selena Quintanilla isn’t worth more than a measly $2 million per episode then is there really any hope that this mythical shift toward more Latine stories is actually coming any time soon to a screen near you? Maybe don’t hold your breath.