I have to admit that after Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán was captured by Mexican authorities on Jan. 8, 2016, I sort of lost interest in the story. Yes, I followed the story somewhat: I read Sean Penn’s interview in Rolling Stone, and about Chapo’s extradition to the United States, and the Mexican government’s allegations against Kate Del Castillo. The reason I say allegations is because that’s all they were. I didn’t know the facts when it came to Kate’s connection with El Chapo or with the Mexican government. Did anyone?
The whole story is bizarre: El Chapo, the biggest drug lord in history, was caught for the third time after six months of being on the run, and apparently Kate had met with him to discuss making a movie about his life and somehow Sean Penn wanted to be involved. Yes, it’s nuts! But so what?
After watching The Day I Met El Chapo: The Kate del Castillo Story on Netflix I realized there were more layers to this story. Most of the content of this docuseries isn’t information that you can just Google. In fact, what’s most telling is hearing from Kate herself. I should also include that Sean Penn tried to block this series from even airing, so we have to assume Kate had some tea to spill.
While we’ve seen her do interviews here and there, we never heard the whole story – until now. Here are five shocking things we learned from Kate del Castillo’s three-part docuseries.
WARNING: The following list contains spoilers from The Day I Met El Chapo
What Was Behind Kate's Open Letter to El Chapo on Twitter
The doc begins with the infamous tweet that Kate sent off in early 2012, while El Chapo was a wanted man. In episode 1, “Destined to Meet,” audiences get a deeper understanding of why Kate tweeted her adoration for El Chapo and more importantly her distrust of the Mexican government.
Kate has always been outspoken, her family and friends say. She’s never been one to bite her tongue or back down to injustices. That straightforwardness might stem from the fact that she comes from a place of privilege, which includes a legendary Mexican family. I’ve always known that Kate was a huge Mexican star with a famous family (her father, Eric del Castillo, began his acting career during Mexico’s Golden Age of Cinema). But what’s interesting here is that El Chapo was also a fan. Way before that tweet, El Chapo was not only hooked on her telenovela La Reina del Sur, but as the docuseries states, Televisa is a Mexican empire. That network rules the nation so people’s intake of pop culture is extremely limited. Kate was like the queen, and El Chapo idolized her.
An amazing way the docuseries shows their intertwined relationship is by showing the discrepancies between these two completely different people. On the one hand, you have this famous, beautiful, and rich actress. Then, there’s this man who grew up poor, glued to the TV set, and dreamed of being wealthy. They’re completely opposite, yet a mutual admiration brought them together.
El Chapo’s Complicated Legacy
Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman Loera, known as El Chapo, will face charges filed in Brooklyn, New York. Photo by Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via Getty Images
Call me naive, but I am kind of clueless about drug cartels. Or, I should say, my knowledge of who’s in charge, or who’s the most powerful drug kingpin in Mexico (or in the world for that matter) is beyond my grasp. This is the case only because I cannot make sense of this larger-than-life industry. Countless people are murdered each day because of the cartels, but why? And what does it really mean? Who’s behind all of it? El Chapo? The Mexican government? Who knows?!
The docuseries shines a light on El Chapo’s legacy and what it actually looks like. It reveals this man from Sinaloa, Mexico, who sold oranges for a living, and rose to become the wealthiest drug lord in history. As many people in the show say, El Chapo makes Al Capone and Pablo Escobar look like chumps when you take in consideration his wealth, the people he had killed, and his longevity in the business.
Another startling look at El Chapo’s legacy is how he relates to Jesús Malverde, a mythical persona that is known as the patron saint of drug traffickers. Just as people prayed to Malverde for centuries, El Chapo has almost taken his place. Some Mexicans have prayed for his release and have songs (mostly narcocorridos) about him, too.
Sean Penn and Kate del Castillo's Secret Hookup
Okay, this is where things get Hollywood-gossipy, which I love. At first, I didn’t quite understand why Sean’s Rolling Stone interview was so controversial. The docuseries made it all clear: Penn never intended to make a movie about El Chapo (which was the pretext of the meeting), he just wanted to get a story published, and appears to have used Kate the entire time. He also fabricated pieces in his article to dramatize his meeting with El Chapo.
But what is most incredible is that Kate and Sean were together during this back-and-forth period with El Chapo. In the docuseries, she doesn’t flat out say that they had sex, but she alludes to it and says that she “fell” for him, and they were open about their friendship as Kate had him over during various parties at her house. On Good Morning America she said, “ I never fell for him. We had sex. We’re both adults, single and something was going on, but that was it. It was business.”
However, audiences will see that it was more than that. Aside from showing flirty text messages, including when she refers to him as “mi amor,” she also details their deep affection for each other like snuggling in the car after having met with El Chapo. She indicated that they were basically each other’s gatekeeper, until Sean wrote the fabricated piece. It was kind of fascinating to see how much Kate tried to juggle her feelings for Sean and El Chapo and remain loyal to both, even though each one had a different goal in mind. Kate got played. But it’s kinda great that she didn’t cave to Sean’s demand to nix the docuseries, because it’s not fair that he tells his side and Kate doesn’t, even if it does make her look a bit naive.
How Kate del Castillo’s Beef with Mexico's First Lady Allegedly Led to Criminal Charges
Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto and First Lady Angelica Rivera Hurtado arrive at G20 Terminal on November 14, 2014 in Brisbane, Australia. Photo by Patrick Hamilton/G20 Australia via Getty Images
Earlier this year, Kate aired her grievances with the Mexican government, both publicly and legally. She spoke about being scared of them, and scared for her life. But I never knew the extent of it. The docuseries talks about how Kate stopped traveling to Mexico out of fear of what the government would do to her.
It’s crucial to hear from Kate because only she – not Sean Penn or anyone else involved – was targeted for meeting with El Chapo. The Mexican government even tried to implicate her for money laundering. Through talking head interviews, the documentary also highlights the fact that it’s likely Kate was targeted simply for being an outspoken woman.
However, it wasn’t based just on her meeting with El Chapo. Mexico’s first family didn’t like Kate – in particular First Lady Angélica Rivera Hurtado. They were both stars in telenovelas, but Kate was clearly a lot more famous than Angélica.
In 2015, Kate (never one to shy away from expressing how she feels) said that there was no way the Mexican First Lady could ever have afforded a $6 million dollar house on a Televisa salary. She basically accused her of shady financial dealings. The docuseries alleges that one of the main reasons the Mexican government went in so hard on Kate is because of the comments she had made about the First Lady.
Kate's Ultimate Goal Had Little to Do With El Chapo
“The Day I met El Chapo” still courtesy of Netflix
I was surprised that this Hollywood story was ultimately more of an inside look at the corruption of Mexico, the drug industry, and the obstruction of truth by its citizens. Just the same way as President Trump deflects his own faults and misconduct, the Mexican government also sits on a pile of lies.
The show details how Mexican officials simply put all of its drug issues on one man, and not on their system that enables him. Kate wanted to expose them all, and for that she became a major target. She might not have been Mexico’s best messenger, but she was authentic about her mission.
All she wanted was to shed the light on a complicated man who was embraced by poor people and lifted to wealth by a messed up system. And while this series might not change any of it, she at least is having her voice be heard.