Misrepresentation in Netflix’s Narcos

By Sebastian Suarez

In Colombia, we have a phrase to describe the US-led drug war: they (the Americans) put the money; we (the Colombians) put the deaths. However, that phrase could also be used to describe Hollywood and Netflix’s business model. “Narcos” and multiple Hollywood movies, such as Penelope Cruz’s Loving Pablo and Tom Cruise’s American Made, are using the sorrowful history of a country as source. Yet, I am not objecting their sudden interest in a country disdained by most Americans; instead, I am objecting their trivialization of my country’s history. The tragedy that occurred in Colombia should not be sold as a source of entertainment.

Throughout my time watching “Narcos”, I could notice that Pablo Escobar –the person responsible for thousands of deaths in Colombia– was portrayed as an agreeable character. For he has no redeemable or even human qualities. He traumatized a country and destroyed his own family, so he cannot be honored in the way Netflix is doing. Multiple times on the show, he was represented as a loving father while in reality, he did not care about their security, being  a fugitive in his last days, he and his family were hiding in miserable hideouts instead of the pompous mansions showed by Netflix. I consider the glorification of this criminal, who caused the deaths of hundreds, unethical and immoral.  Escobar put a million-dollar ransom on the heads of every policeman in the Medellin, ordered the bombings of several buildings and the explosion of a plane that carried one hundred people. Numerous families suffered Escobar’s wrath during his time, and some of its effects are still visible in the Colombian society  two decades  after his death.  For example, most Colombians park in reverse  wherever they go because during Escobar’s time, cars had to  be parked that way  for a fast evacuation in case of bombing. Fortunately for younger generations, we did not experience Escobar’s bombings. While  older generations have conserved those habits passing  them down to my generation.

For us Colombians it is difficult to speak with a non coffee-lover foreigner since they are either oblivious to the existence of our country or are “Narcos” enthusiasts. I remember on the day I met my best friends, their first words when they discovered that I was of Colombian origin were “Narcos” and some of the Spanish swears popularized by the show. Colombians who have suffered Escobar’s reign of terror are trying to leave the image of Colombia as a narco state behind, while many Americans and Europeans have no idea of anything else. But while  trying to move on, America decided to exploit our history and resurrect the stereotypes that Westerners had about Colombia. This is the infamous American double morality in action.

Sometimes I wonder why not one of the multiple victims or heroes who  died during Escobar’s time was worthy of international media attention. However, the answer to seems  pretty obvious: no one is interested in hearing the story of a peasant from a third world country. If there is no audience interest, companies are not going to make profit, therefore, they are not going invest.

I can understand why Netflix and Hollywood is interested in  these stories. What  I cannot understand is why Colombian actors are relegated to secondary and even tertiary characters in their own story. People, especially in the United States, tend to denounce whitewashing in superhero and adaptation movies, yet they obviate the cultural implications of their corporate decisions. For example, “Narcos’” Pablo Escobar is portrayed by a Brazilian that was learning Spanish and a Spaniard in “Loving Pablo”. I personally believe  these roles should have been played by Colombian actors as they and their families personally witnessed Escobar’s perverse personality.

There is a Colombian version of “Narcos” that focused primarily on Escobar’s life, however, it is played by a Colombian actor that portrayed his vile personality. This production was primarily focused on the Colombian market, and was intended to show younger generations the atrocities that Escobar had committed toward the Colombian people. I would say that it was a remembrance and to an extent, a way to have  closure on what had happened during Escobar’s time.

“Narcos” is a series that I have enjoyed; simply entertaining but nothing more to me. The purpose of this article is not to reprimand Netflix or Hollywood for what they have been doing, I just want them and their viewers to be mindful that real people died and suffered in the stories they are narrating.