Color Prohibido

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Not only is white skin in the minority in the world, including Latin America, but it’s soon to be a minority in America. So it’s more than strange to see the role of the late great Selena Quintanilla, a brown Tejana, cast by cream-skinned actresses: first in the classic ’90s movie, starring a still relatively unknown Jennifer Lopez, and now in the upcoming Netflix series starring the half-Italian Christian Serratos (born Bernardi).

Such a casting choice is much harder to pull off than simply finding someone with Selena’s same look and complexion. Though she was clearly one of a kind, there must be plenty of other stunning, fat-bottomed brown girls walking this earth with luscious lips and a smile that makes the sun look like an LED bulb, which means the Money behind those projects actually went out of their way to find a whitewashed stand-in for the Queen of Tejano Music.

If they’re going to honor someone with a biopic or even a whole series, they should try to make sure she is represented as she was. The less desirable features of the person are usually pushed aside, of course, in order to highlight her best qualities. But then this begs two questions: Is darker skin a less desirable trait, and if so, to whom? It isn’t to me—but then again, I’m biased. And if you’re going to change something as inconsequential as the color of someone’s skin, then you’re not honoring her at all, merely looking to cash in on her legacy.

They did the same thing with Nina Simone, the very black genius, by casting Zoe Saldana. I love Zoe, but come on. That kind of casting is a double-diss, a big fuck-you to Ms. Simone and to anybody who looks like her.

The people who made the Selena movie, and now the people who produced the new series, don’t give a damn about Selena. Not really. If they did, they would understand that Selena’s brown skin is part of her glory: that she was able to succeed despite it, like Nina Simone. And, like Nina Simone, she didn’t merely succeed; their names will pass through the ages as two of the greatest musical lights ever to brighten this dark existence of ours.

When we say class and race are tied at the hip, what we mean is that capitalism and racism are BFFs, forever and ever. They grew up together. They depend on each other. Capitalism needs racism to maintain a reliable class of exploitable people, and racism needs capitalism as a justification to treat people worse than dogs. According to the free-market bullshit, blacks and Latinos aren’t poor because of racism; they just don’t know how to work the capitalist system as well as other groups do.

Mark Twain famously noted how “history doesn’t repeat, but it often rhymes.” I can’t help noticing how Selena’s life was cut short over money (I’ll catch you in hell, Yolanda!), and how now her image is being murdered by Money. Besides being turned into a commodity like Frida Kahlo—who was such a die-hard Commie, she fucked Trotsky—the Money that wants to sell Selena’s legacy either thinks the real Selena was too dark for her image to be as profitable as they’d like; or they don’t want to sell a brown image, period, and they figure most people are racist enough to not really care what color the actress playing Selena is, or that she’s half Italian. Americans have long grown accustomed to seeing their black and brown heroines whitewashed anyway.

Anything for a buck.

Hector is the editor of MANO. He's also the host of Latinish and Hits from the Brain. A Chicagoan living in Las Vegas, he's a former deputy editor of Latino Rebels, as well as a former managing editor of Gozamos, an art-activism site based in his home town. He has contributed to RedEye, a Tribune-owned daily geared toward millennials. His work has been mentioned by The New Yorker, TIME and other outlets, and his writing was featured in Ricanstruction, a comic book anthology whose proceeds went toward recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. Hector studied history (for some reason) at the University of Illinois-Chicago, where his focus was on ethnic relations in the United States.

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