I always worry about what people in the US will say when I disclose that I’m Colombian. I’ve gotten used to grinning my way through tone-deaf references to Pablo Escobar and cocaine but that doesn’t make those interactions any more enjoyable. They do work as a very easy litmus test to find out whether the stranger in front of me at that party is worth chatting up. Oh, they made a snorting sound and asked me if I had any on me? Fastest way for me to ditch them and head elsewhere. I know I shouldn’t take it personally. After all, when a show like Narcos can continue to glorify the drug trade and eclipse any other imported visions of Colombia, I have no way of expecting my country to elicit any other reaction from clueless gringos.
Thankfully, Bancolombia, El Colombiano newspaper and the City of Medellín have teamed up to help rehabilitate Colombia’s image abroad. And yes, they’re borrowing the generic trappings that have made that Netflix series a global hit. Battling insidious stereotypes of my home country—you know, that it’s riddled with druglords who live in expansive haciendas surrounded by armed bodyguards—the very first short film in this new ad campaign shows viewers who’s the true Patrón of Colombia. When two young guys deliver a briefcase to a cigar-smoking stranger (you truly half-expect Wagner Moura to show up), you may think you’re witnessing a drug drop. Except, what they’re trafficking isn’t any kind of powdered substance but one of Colombia’s most valuable export: Gabriel García Márquez’s novels.
Similarly, another short clip made to look like a dangerous night-time altercation between a cop and two shady guys driving in the middle of the night devolves into a discussion of Bogotá’s Museo del Oro and Colombia’s long artistic tradition. It stretches back 500 years, after all, and it’s all on display at the capital’s art museum, they tell the cop, who’s all too happy to hear about their recent visit.
Another is set up as a bounty-hunting mission in the middle of the Colombian wilderness. But where the two silk-shirted, aviators-wearing men on a nondescript jeep are intent on finding their target, we soon find out that their mark is actually a bird, one of the many colorful species you can find all over the country. In a final factoid you get to learn that Colombia holds the distinction of having the largest number of bird species in the world.
And lest one think these short films would merely reproduce the all-male cast lists of regular drug cartel shows, worry not. “What REAL Colombian Women Have to Offer” turns its eyes on the contributions female scientists and engineers have made throughout the country’s history. All the while, of course, turning on its head the image of the gorgeous bimbo who’s all too happy to do what her man tells her to.
As informative as they are inventive — notice the cinematic quality these scenes display — each video hopes to break down any preconceived notions you may have about Colombia using the very thing that nurtured these stereotypes in the first place: good old fashioned filmmaking.