The man behind ‘Selena: The Series’ is ready to lead Hollywood’s Latinx revolution
Producer Jaime Dávila knows expectations are high for “Selena: The Series,” the upcoming biographical saga about beloved Tejana star Selena Quintanilla. Set to make its debut on Netflix in December, two years after it was announced, the TV drama is one of the season’s most anticipated releases — and it’s one of the few series this year featuring a Latinx cast at a time when calls for more Latinx representation are growing louder.
“We know how big of a deal this show is,” Dávila, 35, says by video conference from his home in midcity Los Angeles.
As the president and co-founder of Campanario Entertainment, the L.A.-based production company behind the series, Dávila has been on a mission to get Hollywood’s gatekeepers to abandon their outdated perceptions of the Latinx market.
“So much of what often happens in these rooms in Hollywood is that people will divide us,” he says. “They’ll say, ‘Oh, Latino — that’s a separate category.’ What I keep trying to say and what Campanario keeps trying to say with everything we do is that we’re not a separate category. We’re part of America. We’re part of the mainstream.”
For nearly seven years, Dávila and the Campanario team — a mighty six-person crew — have been working behind the scenes, developing content for major Hollywood players like Netflix, Amazon and Bravo, in an effort to bolster Latinx representation on screen, one project at a time, in the U.S. and abroad.
And with “Selena: The Series,” perhaps the company’s highest-profile project to date, the hope is to achieve the sort of mainstream success that will open more doors for content about, and made by, Latinos in an industry that remains overwhelmingly white despite pledges for greater diversity and inclusion.
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“I’d really describe ‘Selena: The Series’ as a culmination of the work that we have put in to build a company that could highlight these types of themes, these types of stories, and bring it to a mainstream market,” Dávila says. “More than anything, we’re trying to show Hollywood that there’s this huge market of Latinx/Latino people; that our stories are American stories; that our stories are global stories. Being able to point to a story like ‘Selena: The Series,’ which is all of those things, is really great. I would love for more doors to open up.”
In addition to “Selena: The Series,” the company has produced multilingual content in the U.S. and Mexico, including Bravo’s short-lived “Mexican Dynasties,” the immigration documentary “Colossus,” “Camelia la Texana” for Telemundo and Netflix, as well as the dramedy “Como Sobrevivir Soltero,” one of the first Amazon original series to launch for Amazon Prime Video Mexico.
“They have a real eye on what all the Latin American territories have to offer, talent-wise,” says Javiera Balmaceda, Amazon Studios’ head of international originals in Argentina, Chile and Colombia.
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Francisco Ramos, Netflix’s vice president of Spanish-language originals in Latin America, echoes the sentiment: “They have a deep understanding of these stories because they see themselves in the characters, they see themselves in the people they hire behind the camera.”
Campanario‘s efforts, particularly in the U.S., come at a time when Latino inclusion in Hollywood remains abysmal. Despite Latinos making up nearly 18% of the U.S. population, they are severely underrepresented in key roles across the industry, according to the latest UCLA Hollywood Diversity report. The study found that only 6.6% of broadcast TV leads were played by Latinx actors; they also played 5.5% of cable’s lead roles and 4.0% of digital‘s in the 2018–19 season. On the film side, Latinos held 4.6% of movie acting roles in 2019. And Latinos had just 2.8% of the writing credits and 2.7% of the directing credits of last year’s 145 top-grossing films.
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Dávila is determined to be part of Hollywood’s revolution. He recently joined the board of directors of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, and is, perhaps surprisingly, more optimistic than cynical about the entertainment industry’s capacity to change. He’s not alone in the fight: a recent open letter demanding better representation in Hollywood was signed by more than 270 Latinx TV creators — including “Vida’s” Tanya Saracho, “One Day at a Time’s” Gloria Calderon Kellett, and Lin-Manuel Miranda — and politicians like L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) have also joined the effort.
“When ‘Selena: The Series’ works all over the world, I’m not going to be surprised,” Dávila says. “I’m so positive about our future because I know our community is brimming with ideas and wanting to do it. Yes, is it slow, I’m not going to disagree with that, but I just think that as a producer, as Campanario, as a production company, we are excited by the level of talent that we see in our community.”
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Born in the border town of McAllen, Texas, before moving to New York at 10, Dávila is the son of Mexican immigrants. His father, Jaime Dávila, Sr., was a former president of Univision and executive at Televisa; his mother, Pilar, was a stay-at-home parent who Dávila credits with taking on the role as the head of the family while his father commuted between the U.S. and Mexico.
“I grew up with ratings coming in on the fax machine on the daily and helping my dad find the ratings, highlight them and sort of try to figure out what was working or what wasn’t right,” he says. “Why is this novela working? Why is this one not working? Why is this actor in this role, maybe not work?” (Dávila, Sr. now serves as chairman of Campanario Entertainment.)
Much like his early years in McAllen, often traveling to and from Mexico with his family, Dávila’s TV interests crossed the border. He eagerly waited for new episodes of “Agujetas de color de rosa,” a Mexican telenovela from Televisa, just as he would for “Seinfeld” or “The Real World.”
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“I did have the benefit of seeing amazing Latino stars speaking Spanish [in telenovelas],” he says. “Novelas were still really messed up ... but you would at least see a Latino doctor, you would at least see a Latino hero. But I was very cognizant that in American TV, mainstream TV — whatever that means — you weren’t seeing my community and my culture and I felt the effects of that.”
Despite his love for TV and his father’s ties to it, Dávila didn’t initially envision a future for himself within its ranks. He studied anthropology at Harvard and received a master’s degree in Latin American Studies from Oxford. But he eventually leaned into his passion for visual stories.
Early in his career, he worked at ICM, a Hollywood agency, and ITV Studios, before moving to Bravo , where he rose from assistant to development executive under Andy Cohen.
In addition to helping adapt international formats and develop original series at Bravo, including “Vanderpump Rules,” “Below Deck” and “Shahs of Sunset,” Dávila was committed to finding opportunities to showcase Latinx stories on the network. He developed a number of series in that vein: one was a reality show that revolved around Mexican actor Jaime Camil, who had a massive following in his home country, but hadn’t yet broken out in the U.S. (Camil would later charm audiences for five seasons as Rogelio de la Vega on The CW’s “Jane the Virgin.”) Another series would follow the lives of a group of actors from some of Telemundo’s telenovelas. Ultimately, none made it to air.
He’d land his chance a few years after leaving the network, with 2019’s”Mexican Dynasties,” a reality series that followed the lives of rich families in Mexico City. Produced by Campanario, the series lasted one season, but Dávila still considers it a success: “What I learned from ‘Mexican Dynasties’ is don’t stop trying. It had a loyal audience. Rihanna loved it! TV Guide called it the best Bravo show in years.”
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Eli Lehrer, Bravo’s former head of development who worked closely with Dávila, described Dávila’s dedication to inclusivity as “invaluable.”
“He was always pushing the brand to expand our horizons and diversify the voices we were bringing to the channel, in particular Latinx representation,” says Lehrer, now the executive vice president of programming at History Channel. “I have been trying to re-hire Jaime as an executive ever since I left Bravo ... but I’m not at all surprised that he is on this path. He really is driven by this mission. He feels strongly that what he’s doing is good business and very important work. He’s chasing this holy grail of a show that will broaden people’s understanding of what Latinx culture is and is also deeply entertaining. He wants to do both. He wants to have that massive hit that speaks to everyone but also does shift people’s understanding of what Latinx characters on TV can look like.”
Will delving into the story of Selena Quintanilla for the small screen help the shift?
The Netflix drama arrives nearly 23 years after the Oscar-nominated film, starring Jennifer Lopez, chronicled the making of the Mexican American singer’s music career, which bridged the gap between her Mexican heritage and South Texas roots. The Gregory Nava-directed film, which offered a rare portrait of a hard-working Latino American family, helped solidify Quintanilla’s place in the culture after her death at age 23.
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“We’re not going to deny that the movie has a special place in everyone’s hearts,” says Rico Martinez, head of content and digital at Campanario, who worked day-to-day on the series. “It evokes an emotion that is hard to describe. And it will always have that emotional pull with audiences. We will never touch that. We will never take away from that. When you’re doing two seasons’ worth of 18 episodes, it’s going to be a different story. We’re trying to tell this complete story from her birth until the end, and that involves everything that the family did to help Selena get there — because their stories, the story as they told us, isn’t just the story of Selena. It’s the story of their family. So, we’re telling the complete story of the entire band and viewpoints that we’ve never seen before.”
“We’re just showing you so much more,” adds Dávila, whose favorite song by the late singer is “Fotos Y Recuerdos.” “We’re showing you ‘80s Quintanilla family, ‘80s Selena. You’re seeing the behind-the-scenes making of a lot of the songs and how they got created and what went into them. I think so many people, even superfans, don’t know a lot about how the legend happened.”
And getting to tell that story on a global stage is a win.
“One of the most amazing things about being able to go on Netflix,” Dávila says, “is that people in Japan are going to watch the story right away. People in Denmark are going to watch this story right away. And my goal is for people to see our stories in those countries and relate to them and to see themselves in these characters. And I know it’s possible, because I grew up only watching white people and related to that.”
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