Netflix’s Griselda, billed as Sofia Vergara’s star new star vehicle, is certainly a different look for the Colombian actress. Vergara shines as the ruthless drug lord, and shows a range some suspect she didn’t have after so many years playing a mostly comedic role in Modern Family.
But outside of showcasing Vergara’s range, there’s not much that can be said about Griselda, the same old story we’ve seen before, except this time with a distinctly “feminist” or “girl power” vibe that feels insincere.
Whether there’s any truth to the angle, is left to the viewer. Griselda Blanco has been fashioned into some sort of antihero since her death, a woman who didn’t necessarily want to be ruthless, but who was made to be, a view the show doesn’t just subscribe to, but that it actively vocalizes.
And that is, perhaps, part of the problem. Blanco was a real person, so there is no need to sanitize the story by leaving this interpretation up to whoever is watching. Particularly not when dealing with a woman who is thought to be responsible for at least 200 deaths, some of them rather gruesome.
Then there’s the “girl power” reasoning behind her takeover. Yes, Griselda was a woman, one who started as a sex worker, but both those things can be true without the show – not to mention the very on-the-nose marketing – exploiting the idea of feminism. She can still look out for number one first and help out other women without the narrative using feminism or “girlbossification” to justify her actions and make them more palatable for the audience.
Vergara herself has said that Griselda is not a hero and that she should not be idolized. But the fact that Blanco and numerous other narcos remain the most common narrative from countries like Colombia goes against this idea. It isn’t just Griselda, there’s Narcos and Narcos: Mexico as well as Queen of the South, El Chapo, and The Mule. The narconovela isn’t the exception; it’s seemingly the rule when it comes to stories pertaining to Latin America within Hollywood.
Then there’s the fact that Vergara herself previously played Gloria Delgado-Pritchett, a character who constantly makes jokes about the drugs and the murders she escaped from in her Colombian small-town. The stereotypes are not secondary to who she is; they are part of the point of her character. But they still perpetuate stereotypes, just this time wrapped up in comedy.
Colombian Ambassador to the UK, Roy Barreras, said it well when he tweeted, “They make narconovelas, and they do great damage to the image of Colombia abroad.”
Vergara has responded to this damaging narrative across various interviews, but she still executive produced and starred in Griselda, continuing the cycle of narconovelas being the only stories told about our communities. And it’s up to all of us, including Vergara, to ask for more than just another narco story – even those sanitized by a very shallow veneer of feminism.