How Netflix stereotypes and glorifies the drug conflict, while Colombia works desperately to improve itself.
Though I’ve only been living in Colombia for three months, it’s been enough to change many of the perspectives I came in with. Narcos, Netflix’s series on the Colombian drug conflict, is popular. Yet, it negatively affects Colombia. Here’s why.
1. Narcos perpetuates racist Colombian stereotypes.
The show depicts Colombia as a country of narco trafficking, cocaine, Pablo Escobar, drugs, the Drug Enforcement Agency, guns, violence and loose women.
Writing for Fusion, Pablo Medina Uribe notes:
Almost every Colombian depicted is a criminal, a corrupt public officer, or a sexy woman trying to get ahead through sex.
These stereotypes may be based on history, but how necessary is it to repeat them?
When one critically analyzes Narcos, it’s plain to see that it is a Colombian minstrel show.
2. Netflix is profiting off a war that has destroyed the quality of life for millions of Colombians.
Some quick numbers on the crisis:
The number of people internally displaced by the drug conflict. The only country in the world with more displaced people is Syria.
The number of people killed in the conflict.
The percent of people killed who were civilians.
Colombia’s ranking in the most unequal countries in the world, according to the World Bank. Much inequality has been caused by cartels, guerrillas and governments displacing people.
The drug conflict has had serious traumatic effects on the people of Colombia.
My students echoed over and over the pain of living in a country belligerent with feuds over narcotics.
Others told me how guerrillas pushed their families out of their rural homes. As one student, Daniela, wrote, “The show forgets the suffering of our people.”
Many people are at fault: individuals in the American government, the Colombian government, rightist and leftist guerrillas and of course Pablo Escobar.
3. Narcos glorifies Pablo Escobar.
Mentioning Pablo Escobar in any sort of reverence is about the worst taboo you can commit in Colombia. It’s equal to praising Osama bin Laden in the United States.
And it makes sense. Escobar was responsible for the killing of roughly 3,000 people. This includes the explosion of a commercial airline flight out of Bogotá that killed 110 people.
The stories of Escobar’s wrath are true to this day. One of my student’s told how Escobar threatened to kill her uncle unless he kidnapped people.
Sure, at some point laughter heals. We have to have a sense of humor. Still at some point we also have to realize we are perpetuating stereotypes, facetiously characterizing the Colombian drug conflict and glorifying a domestic terrorist.
4. Colombia has changed.
I live in post-conflict Colombia.
It’s taken a monumental effort, but peace is beginning to reign throughout this land. A peace deal is expected to be signed between the guerrilla group the FARC and the government in March of 2016, bringing a formal end to the conflict.
The Colombian people have spent an exorbitant amount of energy improving their country and trying to change its reputation. My experience in Colombia has been absolutely wonderful.
Currently, I live in Zona Rosa, a neighborhood in Bogotá. If you remember correctly Narcos first episode opens in my neighborhood. In fact it opens on my street, Carrera 14. Colombian police open fire on a group of men and women in a neon-lit bar that is soon covered in blood.
This scene looked so different from the Zona Rosa that I know. In my three months living in Bogotá I’ve gone to countless restaurants and clubs in this section of town and have seen nothing but peace. I teach English at a university in this neighborhood.
This is not to say everything in Colombia is rosy.
A shocking number of my friends have been robbed at knifepoint in just three months living here. Still we have to have a fair perspective.
Daniela, a modern languages student at the university reflects:
Colombia is more than drugs and Narcos, and Netflix, only shows a story that sells. It is a truth told by halves, where the most important things are the ratings and the profits earned…
It is important that the viewers understand…we have many beautiful things to offer, we have good people, unforgettable landscapes, incredible sunsets and the greatest biodiversity.
If you do decide to keep watching Narcos, take it with a grain of salt — not a gram of coke.
What you are seeing is Colombia in the 1980s, not Colombia in 2015. There’s a huge difference.
5. Narcos tells Colombia’s single story. We need to change that.
In her Ted talk, “The danger of a single story,” Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie asserts:
“The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.”
Stereotypes perpetuated over time become more powerful and start to create an incomplete narrative about a person or place. We call that stereotyped narrative a single story.
Adichie shares how she encountered single stories of Africa. As a college student in the U.S., her American roommate wondered where Adichie learned English, asked to hear her “tribal music,” and assumed she’d never used a stove.
Chimamanda told the roommate that English is the national language of Nigeria, played a Mariah Carey CD, and assured her naive roommate that she was familiar with a modern kitchen.
Single stories are told about Mexicans in the United States: illegal immigrants. Single stories were told by John Locke when he encountered Africa in the 17th century, calling the people half devil, half child.
Narcos tells Colombia’s single story.
One student, Alex notes:
By putting a “narco” in the spotlight, they suggest the only interesting story in Colombia is the bloody and dreadful one.
And once again this storytelling has real impacts.
Recently when I asked a friend what she wanted me to bring her back from Colombia, she responded, “a pound of cocaine.”
I wonder where she got that idea…
When Narcos harkens back to old stereotypes, they hit rewind on the path to create a more accurate portrayal of this country.
Colombia is desperately working to create a more positive narrative of itself and is doing a pretty great job of it.