Adult and Continuing Education Womens Biopics in Recent Hollywood Selena Paper.
Women’s Biopics in Recent Hollywood – Selena (1997)
Biopics, which relate the life of an important person or group with varying degrees of accuracy and fictionalization, are popular genre films. Biopics about female singers are more common than those about women in other professions except maybe queens. Look over the Women’s Film List in Canvas Files for all the titles I could think of. Of course, most are about Americans.
Biopics about Latinas, of whatever profession, are extremely rare: Evita, Frida, Dolores, Chavela, Mercedes Sosa. I want you to watch a relatively recent Hollywood treatment of a very popular Mexican-American singer who died young.
Selena Quintanilla-Pérez (1971-1995) was an American singer, songwriter, spokesperson (for MAC cosmetics), model, actress, fashion designer. Called the “Queen of Tejano music,” she brought Latin cumbia and Tejano music into the American mainstream and cracked the male-only barrier for Tejano music. She was idolized by her fans, even by the one who shot her to death at the age of 24.
Like I said about Queen Christina, women’s biopics are often a subgenre of drama and epic. But like that film and Madame Curie, they also often contain elements of romance and romantic comedy as well as melodrama. So many biopics about women singers dramatize a work-life-balance conflict—what’s more important to her: her family life? Love life? Career as an artist? What devices are used to express those conflicts, as well as the public’s adoration of her? Does she still have to choose only one path in the 1990s?
Again, ask these basic questions to come up with common elements of the biopic of a Latina singer:
- Why and how is the childhood of the subject introduced, if it is?
- What is the subject’s legacy (family and ethnic origin, parental issues, previous tragedy, socioeconomic background)?
- What stage(s) of the subject’s life does this biopic emphasize most?
- How is the subject’s appearance, and maintenance of it, significant to the film?
- How does the film show that the subject is remarkable, different from the rest?
- Is the subject cursed or burdened by some recurring force?
- What is the role of music in the woman’s life, whether it’s a defining element or just used in the film?
- What is the basic plot of this biopic? How are the events of her life narrated into a story?
- Who are the most important members of the subject’s inner circle (family, friends, associates)?
- What is the subject’s relationship with her public, if there is one?
- What objects, symbols, animals, people, words recur in this biopic?
- What is the role of romantic love in the subject’s life? The role of sexuality?
- Does the film trace the subject’s transformation? If so, what kind?
- How do other characters fight over the subject, and for what reasons?
- What is the takeaway about this woman’s life?
- How strong are traces of other genre films—epic, war, romantic comedy, romance, melodrama—in this biopic?
NOTE: I understand that Selena: La Serie (the series) will be available on Netflix streaming soon.
Watch Selena (USA: Gregory Nava, 1997; Amazon Prime Video, YouTube$, DVD2035Reserve)
A) Ask 3 discussion questions of your own regarding the film. The questions can be about specific techniques used in specific scenes, the characters, what being an entertainer entails, the plotline, the way musical performances are rendered, unexpected outcomes, montage sequences, the ending.
B) Answer 3 discussion questions posed by other students.
C) Respond to at least one other student’s post with polite agreement or disagreement, giving evidence for your point of view.
D) Read: “The Musical” chapter in Introduction to Film Genres. Comment on something in this reading that would pertain to an interesting discussion of Selena.