According to the Library of Congress, thousands of movies are submitted for National Film Registry consideration every year, which gets dwindled down to the final list of 25 inductees in December. The goal is always for the final list to be an eclectic group of movies, representing a wide variety of diverse films and filmmakers. Typically the movies submitted by the public receive zero fanfare, though there is the occasional campaigning from devoted fans. This year, one such campaign is being instigated by no less than the US Congress.
On January 1st, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, headed in part by Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas, sent a letter to Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden, requesting that the 1997 film “Selena” be considered for NFR induction for the class of 2021. The Hispanic Caucus has been making a conscious effort to encourage more Latnix films and filmmakers in mainstream media, and the induction of “Selena” into the NFR is part of this campaign. Directed by Gregory Nava (currently represented on the NFR with “El Norte”), “Selena” stars Jennifer Lopez as Selena Quintanilla, the real-life Tejano singer who became a superstar before being tragically murdered at just 24 years old. As Rep. Castro puts it in his letter, “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.” The letter ends with the hope that Dr. Hayden and the National Film Preservation Board will give “careful consideration” to “Selena” when they meet later this year.
Well Rep. Castro, you got my vote. While I am aware of the film “Selena” and its importance in the Latinx community (I’ve seen the ending on VH1 more times than I can count), it never occurred to me to nominate the film for the NFR. After a little bit of research, I’ve found that “Selena” is more than qualified to be on the NFR. In addition to representing an important American artist and a specific culture, “Selena” made a movie star out of Jennifer Lopez, who continues to be a cultural icon almost 25 years later. On top of that, the recent Netflix limited series about Selena Quintanilla shows just how much her life and career still resonates within our culture. Looking at the NFR as it stands now, there are only 10 films on the list directed by Mexican, Mexican-American, or Latinx filmmakers, which accounts for 1.25% of the NFR. Plus, given all the racist and insensitive depictions of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans elsewhere on the NFR, I’m all for including a movie with a more diverse and humane representation. I am more than happy to include “Selena” as one of the 50 movies I will nominate for NFR inclusion this year.
Obviously, there is so much more work that needs to be done to make Latinx voices be heard in mainstream media (both in front of and behind the camera), but inducting “Selena” into the NFR is a start, highlighting a success from the past to encourage more in the future. Plus it’s a first step that anyone can participate in. You can nominate “Selena” right now! And while you’re there, check out this list of other movies not on the NFR, and see if there aren’t 49 more that you’d like to champion. The efforts of Rep. Castro and the entire Congressional Hispanic Caucus are commendable, and hopefully will result in “Selena” joining the ranks of preservation-worthy American films.
A bonus piece of trivia: Rep. Joaquin Castro was named after the Rodolfo Gonzales poem “I Am Joaquín”. A short film adaptation of the poem by Luis Valdez was made in 1969, and added to the National Film Registry in 2010.