In the heat of the fervor left by Netflix’s series Narcos last year, Jennifer Lopez announced she was turning the tables on the genre with a biopic of female cocaine queenpin, Griselda Blanco (aka as La Madrina and La Viuda Negra.) Apparently that film has stalled and will be beaten to the punch by another actress, this one an Oscar-winner, in a Blanco biopic for the Lifetime network.
Cocaine Godmother charts Blanco’s rise and fall as a leader of the infamous Medellín cartel. The first trailer for the movie holds many similarities to other pictures in the genre. Blanco is introduced as a little girl raised in a violent environment, whose slaps to the face from other little girls transition into her being hit by men. Lines like “I’ve been in prison since the day I was born” and “trust no one in this life” sound like something ripped out of Scarface. The fact that these lines are being said by the Welsh-born Catherine Zeta-Jones in a faux Spanish-speaker’s accent borders on offensive.
The central conceit of the trailer looks to be how Blanco balanced being a female drug kingpin alongside motherhood and her own love. She mentions needing to “keep food on the table” before stuffing drugs into women’s undergarments. It’s evident this wants to play on the continuing U.S. obsession with narco culture. Typical quick-cutting of violence, police, guns and screaming ensue, all with the aim of “informing” audiences that “Before El Chapo. Before Pablo Escobar. There was Griselda.” How much longer will this obsession with showing Latino stories strictly through the haze of cocaine and terror last?
Cocaine Godmother looks like typical Lifetime fare, but this time with a higher-caliber actress. Zeta-Jones even played a drug czar in the 2005 film Traffic, so this seems to be nothing new for her, and considering the real Blanco was Colombian it’s impossible not to immediately shout “whitewashing.” On a positive note, the rest of the cast includes actual Latinos, including Mexican actor Rául Mendez and Juan Pablo Espinosa, and is helmed by Mexican director Guillermo Navarro. Cocaine Godmother was stalled halfway through production, which seemed to give the advantage to Lopez’s competing biopic at HBO coming out first. There’s no word on if that production is still happening. It’s unclear how that biopic would look, or if it would tell a better interpretation of events especially since Lopez is Puerto Rican, not Colombian but it’s closer than Wales.
Cocaine Godmother airs January 20 at 8 p.m. on the Lifetime network.