Musician puts their whole lives into their work. You’ll get a sneak peek into their life experiences just by listening to the lyrics of their songs. It’s part of what makes their music unique, personal, and real. As a result, we can often relate to their joy and their pain. Though it’s common to know our favorite music artists’ songs by heart we don’t always necessarily know the stories behind them. But documentaries, biopics, and TV shows about our favorite artists can give us the insight we might not be able to gather from their music alone. Here are 15 great shows, movies, and documentaries that delve a little bit deeper into the lives of some of our favorite legendary Latinx music artists!
JLo is gonna get calls bcuz of the Latinx Emmy talks so plz God let Christian Serratos Selena be good to break the curse pic.twitter.com/BFWUUJ2w9H
— tejano_space_cowboy (@space_caballero) July 30, 2020
The movie Selena is already considered a classic these days. Released in 1997, the film that made Jennifer Lopez a star told the life and career story of the iconic queen of Tejano and cumbia, Selena Quintanilla-Perez. It also starred Edward James Olmos, Constance Marie, Jon Seda, Lupe Oniveros, Jackie Guerra, and Jacob Vargas. It is because of the movie that we know that Selena could eat an entire medium pizza on her own, know the “anything for Selenas” tour bus story, and got a special glimpse into the amazing human that she was.
— My Statesman (@MyStatesman) October 14, 2015
Celia Cruz is such a huge and timeless star that you would think she was born famous. When you learn about the struggles she overcame and her perseverance, you admire and love her so much more. The novela Celia, which first aired from October 2015 to February 2016, and currently aired again this year on Telemundo, tells Celia’s life story. You get to see her love of Cuba, how she was forced to leave and never return, her love story with Pedro Knight, and her musical legacy. You also see a fictionalized character who is supposed to be La Lupe (Lola Calvo), although her portrayed story appears to be much more sensationalized and false than what actually happened.
Mariposa de Barrio
Chicana banda and ranchera singer, actress, entrepreneur, songwriter, television producer, and philanthropist Jenni Rivera had a tough life, but it made her into the strong, woman we’ll always remember her as. She was such an inspiration to Latinas everywhere. Mariposa de Barrio, the 2017 telenovela starring Chicana actress Angelica Celaya as Jenni, is re-airing now on Telemundo. You will see her life story, her rise to music stardom, her family life, and the things that made Jenni, Jenni.
Films gave us an opportunity to learn about Latinx stars who lived, and passed before we were even born. A perfect example is the life story of Richard Steven Valenzuela, who became the iconic Ritchie Valens. The 1987 film La Bamba, starring Filipino-American Lou Diamond Phillips, Esai Morales, Jennifer Peña, Danielle von Zerneck, Rosanna de Soto, and Joe Pantoliano is a classic that looks into the life, and short yet epic 8-month career of the rock star.
El Joe, la leyenda
Our next production that you should watch, takes us to Cartagena, Colombia. The novela Joe, la leyenda is about Joe Arroyo, a legendary Afro-Colombian salsa, tropical, and folk singer, portrayed by Jair Romero. Signed to the Colombian label, Arroyo went on to create such hits as “Rebelion,” “La noche,” and “Tania.” Tragically, the icon died at the age of 55 due to multi-organ failure.
José José, el principe de la cancion
José José is a legend in Latin music. The Mexican crooner and actor, known as El Prince de la Cancion, has had a sparkling career spanning over four decades. It is fitting, then, that a novela dedicated to his life was created. Titled José José, el principe de la cancion, the 2018 production starred Alejandro de la Madrid as the icon. The telenovela is said to be available to watch on Netflix and is 75 episodes in total.
One thing to come from the union that was Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez is the film El Cantante. The 2006 film has Marc Anthony in the lead role of Puerto Rican salsa legend Hector Lavoe, with Lopez playing his wife Puchi. The movie is told by her perspective and goes through the singer’s many highs and lows in life. Lavoe is known for such iconic hits as “Mi Gente,” “Periodico de Ayer,” “Dia de Suerte,” “Todo Tiene Su Final,” and “El Cantante.”
Latin Music USA
Documentaries take a focused look on a specific topic that we often don’t get such an in-depth look at. This includes Latin music in the United States. PBS produced the super cool Latin Music USA, which is narrated by Latino actor Jimmy Smits and explores “the fascinating musical fusions that propelled Latin music to the top of the US charts.”
Hasta que te conoci
While you’re waiting to find out whether Juan Gabriel is still alive or not, why not check out the novela dedicated to the Mexican superstar’s life? Starring Julian Roman, Hasta que te conocí traces the singer’s life and career in a compact 13 episodes. If you wanted to know more about El Divo de Juarez, this is a must-see.
Luis Miguel, la serie
Luis Miguel, known as El Sol de Mexico, has always been an enigma. The Mexican singer, who was born in Puerto Rico, has given us what seems like a lifetime of music and hits, selling over 100 million records, but we don’t know too much about his personal life. Luis Miguel, la serie, is the only production on the star’s life that he himself has approved. Spanning 13 episodes, and rumored to have been approved for a second season, the series looks at Luis Miguel’s musical success and personal life.
La Lupe: Queen of Latin Soul
If you want a more accurate depiction of Afro-Cubana singer La Lupe, then you should definitely check out the documentary, La Lupe Queen of Latin Soul. The PBS Independent Lens production “tells La Lupe’s story through character-driven interviews in first-person anecdotes, in an oral history much like those found in a folk ballad or a bolero.”
Starring Colombian vallenato music star Carlos Vives, Escalona is a 1991 telenovela that tells the story of vallenato legend Rafael Escalona. The composer and troubadour would create songs that told tales of Colombia’s Magdalena department, by the Caribbean Sea, songs that inspired friend and iconic author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Some noted Escalona compositions include “La casa en el aire,” “La vieja Sara,” and “El manatial.”
Another Latinx music documentary you should check out is Beyond Ipanema. “This feature documentary is a great mash-up of thoughts and ideas about the ongoing cycle of the discovery of Brazilian music throughout the world. Through interviews with major artists from all generations, the film surveys the Brazilian music experience beyond the borders of Brazil: David Byrne, Devendra Banhart, M.I.A., Os Mutantes, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Tom Zé, Seu Jorge, Thievery Corporation, Bebel Gilberto, CSS, Creed Taylor, and many others. Artists, producers, DJs and critics analyze how the cross-pollination of musical styles, as well as sampling and globalization, have helped Brazil to secure a unique position in global culture.”
Diomedes, el cacique de la junta
Latin Grammy winner Diomedes Diaz Maestre is another huge figure in the genre of vallenato music. The novela on his life and rise to musical stardom is called Diomedes, la cacique de la junta, and stars Orlando Liñan in the title role. The show was released in 2015, after the singer’s death at the age of 56 of a heart attack, and became a massive hit in Colombia.
@TheGuadalupe and @CineFestival present a special screening of Chulas Fronteras tomorrow at 7; the film is a complex, insightful look at the Chicano experience of the most acclaimed Norteño musicians of the Texas-Mexican border. #FilmSAhttps://t.co/nqsBmOrYIP pic.twitter.com/fd3VxeyIvw
— Film San Antonio (@filmsanantonio) May 14, 2019
Chula Fronteras is a 1976 documentary about Tex-Mex conjunto/Norteño music. The songs from these genres serve as a protest against unfair treatment and speak to the Chicanx experience. The film was preserved in the Library of Congress, in 1993.