For Latina actresses in Hollywood, playing drug cartel boss, Griselda Blanco is exciting. She exuded power, sex appeal and ruthlessness. And her life, full of sex, violence and high risk is made for the movies. Catherine Zeta-Jones played the part in the 2017 film The Cocaine Godmother, Jennifer Lopez’s project, The Godmother, is in development and Sofia Vergara plays her in the new Netflix mini series, Griselda, which is also a Narcos spinoff in a way; that popular show was about notorious Colombian drug dealer, Pablo Escobar, whose path crossed that of his compatriot, Griselda Blanco. He is reported to have said that the only man he was afraid of was a woman—the quote with which the series begins.
Griselda belonged to the time when women were seen either as housewives or whores—not heading businesses or criminal empires. She escaped from Medellin, Columbia, with her three sons and a kilo of cocaine, after killing her no-good husband. She took the help of Carmen (Vanessa Ferlito) , a friend in Miami, who had left that life behind and wanted nothing to do with the drug trade. Griselda discovers that the male gang leaders do not want to negotiate with her, and do everything in their power to halt her entry into the business. She gets her sex worker friends from Columbia to smuggle in drugs and creates a new market by reaching out to rich white people.
Meanwhile, Miami’s laidback police force, alarmed that their peaceful beach town is turning into a narcotics hub, start going after the street operators. Sexism plays out there too—a Latina police officer, June (Juliana Aidén Martinez), who has the brains to be a detective and reads the signs of the Griselda story much before her male colleagues, is treated as an interpreter; her meticulously typed memos are crumpled and tossed back into her office.
Unlike Narcos that had a gritty, quasi-documentary look, Griselda revels in his pulpiness, orchestrating gun fights and massacres with savage glee. Griselda seems to pay her tormentors back by embarking on a killing spree, unfazed by the collateral damage. Because of the violence and humiliation she endured, she has no problems inflicting worse on anyone who steps in her way. Early on, a henchman who snatches her stash, has his knee smashed with a baseball bat.
The show set in the Seventies is gorgeous to look at, with the huge cars, swanky mansions, funky fashion, animal print outfits, and overall glitz. Appallingly, it tries to soften its protagonist’s brutality by showing her as a loving mother, protective of her kids. Sofia Vergara (also a producer on the show) plays Griselda with over-the-top flair that somehow suits the character, who never stops fighting. She makes Griselda sympathetic and glamorous in low-cut metallic dresses, which the real life cocaine godmother never was, judging by her pictures. However, it is because of Vergara’s performance that Griselda is compulsively watchable.
Directed by Andres Biaz
Cast: Sofia Vergara, Alberto Guerra, Martin Rodriguez, Vanessa Ferlito and others