It was not until Perez signed a TV deal four years later, announcing on Facebook that he was “ready to take the important step of being fully transparent and bringing my everlasting relationship to life on the screen,” that Quintanilla drew a line. That same day, family attorney Simran Singh emailed Perez’s backers at Endemol Shine, demanding they cease and desist their “unauthorized production” of any commercial project based on his book. In December 2016, Quintanilla sued.
Referring back to that old estate agreement, he alleged that Perez had breached a legally binding contract, one that forbade him from doing the exact thing he was now attempting. Quintanilla also claimed that Perez’s announcement had sabotaged a plan then underway for a scripted TV series “inspired by the life of Selena” — a deal purportedly worth as much as $6 million to the estate. As Quintanilla saw it, Perez was acting like an ingrate, taking from the family’s efforts but then going off and striking his own deal without offering anything in return. As proof that Perez had benefited from their arrangement, Quintanilla produced tax documents showing that he paid him $524,050 over a 10-year period, from a high of $167,350 in 2016 to a low of $15,400 in 2010, payments Perez “never questioned why he was receiving.” He even dragged Perez’s ex-wife into the litigation, seeking her testimony that Perez wanted to keep the payments for himself during their split.
“The monies Chris Perez has received, retained and continues to receive in connection with the Estate Properties Agreement are comprised of profits derived from my commercial administration and exploitation of the Entertainment Properties,” Quintanilla asserted in court papers. (Endemol Shine was ultimately dismissed as a party to the suit.)
No matter what he had signed, Perez didn’t think that Quintanilla had any right to dictate what he could and could not say about his own life and marriage, much less the medium in which he chose to say it. After all, Quintanilla couldn’t stop Telemundo from airing a scripted 2019 series based on the Maria Celeste Arrarás book, El Secreto de Selena (“Selena’s Secret”), despite his public lambasting of Arrarás as a “bloodsucker...profiting from my daughter Selena’s name, image and music.”
But if he was bound by the agreement, Perez wanted proof that Quintanilla was living up to his end of the bargain. If he had indeed been paid as much as $3 million since 1995, that meant Selena’s estate had earned no more than $12 million in net profits over a quarter-century — despite six posthumous No. 1s on the Top Latin Albums chart, a Forever 21 deal, a couple of MAC collaborations, a Selena debit card (“The Impossible…Is Possible with the Selena Visa Prepaid Card”), a biopic that grossed $35 million and an array of other merchandising and licensing deals.
(Speaking of that biopic: In a separate lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court just weeks ago, Selena producer Moctesuma Esparza has alleged that Quintanilla assigned him a stake in Selena’s life rights in 1995 when they first partnered on the movie; he describes Selena: The Series as a “misappropriation” of his interest and seeks millions in damages from Quintanilla, his daughter Suzette, their lawyer, Netflix and others.)
“Net” is a notoriously elastic term, of course, and the estate agreement defines it to permit Quintanilla to deduct anything from travel and advertising to employee salaries and a reasonable profit for production, plus anything else “ordinarily deducted from Gross Receipts.” To untangle it all, Perez has retained a “certified fraud examiner” and demanded that Quintanilla hand over his books, bank statements and any other materials reflecting the estate’s finances — a Pandora’s box of sensitive documents that Quintanilla’s lawyers have fought to keep shut. Perez has even requested copies of the family’s contract with Netflix and their communications with Campanario Entertainment.
“I would like to think of myself as, like, pretty mellow, you know? Just chill,” says Perez. “But the one thing that I can’t stand is when I feel like I’m being bullied.”