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‘Selena’ Nominated for National Film Registry for its Latin-American Representation

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro is among the lawmakers pushing for the inclusion of Gregory Nava’s 1997 biopic Selena starring Jennifer Lopez in the National Film Registry. Castro, the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, wrote a letter  on behalf of the organization to Dr. Carla Hayden, the librarian of Congress, saying they want to “ensure that the experiences of American Latinos are well represented in the films.” The National Film Registry selects 25 films to preserve each year that showcase the range and diversity of American film heritage to increase awareness. In the letter, the organization formally nominates Selena to be included among other other films featuring Latinx leads/stories including Stand and Deliver (1988) and Real Women Have Curves (2002).

In addition to the film’s focus on the Queen of Tejano music’s rise to fame and tragic death, the movie is also a look at the experience of being Mexican-American in the U.S.  “The film also touches on important themes of cultural identity and assimilation faced by Mexican American communities as they navigate their personal connections to two cultures and languages. The film has become a beloved icon of Latino culture and has found widespread mainstream success, proving once and for all that Latino stories are American stories,” he wrote.

Nava directed the film and worked closely with the Quintanilla family to bring Selena’s story to life with Edward James Olmos portraying Abraham Quintanilla and Constance Marie playing her mother Marcella Quintanilla. Jennifer Lopez received a Golden Globe nomination for her portrayal of Selena and the film was both a box office and critical success.

Nava responded to the nomination in a statement: “For too long U.S. Latinx filmmakers’ contribution to the film industry have been overlooked and underrepresented. Our community is important and growing and our stories need to be told. I applaud the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ efforts to bring attention to this and to honor the accomplishments of Latinx filmmakers.”

Dr. Stacy L. Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative in partnership with National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) and Wise Entertainment released a report last year tracking the lack of representation of the Latinx community in Hollywood both in front and behind the camera.

They found that only 3 percent of movies featured Latinx actors in lead roles from 2007 through 2018 in the 100 top-grossing films. Latinx actors Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz, Eugenio Derbez, and Jessica Alba held 16 of those 35 lead roles surveyed. The report also saw that nearly one-half of the Latinx leads or co-leads were women, but five of the 17 leading actresses were played by Cameron Diaz, who is of Cuban descent on her father’s side. Only eight male and two female leads (both played by J.Lo), co-leads or members of an ensemble cast were 45 years of age or older at the time of theatrical release.

“The exclusion of Latinos from the film industry, the lack of support and opportunity given to Latino films and filmmakers, and the barriers that Latino-focused projects face from development through distribution mirror the ways in which Latinos continue to be excluded from the full promise of America—a problem that will not be solved until our stories can be fully told,” Castro wrote.