Pablo Escobar Obsession: Narco Genre Expands Globally

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The success of the narco genre is so unquestionable that even European production companies are betting on content based on this theme and the figure of Pablo Escobar. We talk about "Medellín" from Prime Video.

Still from the series 'Medellin'

Photo: Prime Video

LatinAmerican Post | July Vanesa López

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Leer en español: Obsesión por Pablo Escobar: el género de narcos se expande globalmente

In June of last year, filming took place in Medellin, Colombia, for Prime's new comedy-action movie, which also bears the same title as the city. "Medellin" is a French film directed by and starring Franck Gastambide, known for "Taxi 5". It tells the story of a young French YouTuber who, obsessed with the figure of Pablo Escobar, decides to travel to the drug trafficker's hometown and is kidnapped by a dangerous cartel. His brother assembles a group to make a raid in Colombia, but the plan gets out of hand when the son of the cartel leader is kidnapped. The film features actor Raymond Cruz (Tuco Salamanca in "Breaking Bad") and former boxer Myke Tyson.

The Expansion of the Narco Genre

The film's premiere attracted attention because, although it is a comedy, it uses the theme of drug traffickers for its development. In addition, it was filmed in a city internationally recognized for its relationship with Pablo Escobar, a figure exploited in the Latin American audiovisual industry. This decision may be a consequence of the success of the narco genre in recent years.

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Narco-series, or narco-novelas, are not a relatively new phenomenon. We can trace their origin to 2006, when "Without Breasts, There Is No Paradise," a Colombian soap opera that was very well received in the country, premiered. By delving so openly into drug trafficking and everything that goes through it, it had a high impact. It was distributed to almost all Latin American countries in only two years.

This was followed by titles such as "Pablo Escobar, The Drug Lord," "El Capo" and "Mafia Dolls," all Colombian. The genre was also embraced by Mexican and, eventually, U.S. production companies. "The Lord of the Skies" was a Mexican-Colombian collaboration, while "Queen of the South" was Mexican-American. The subject matter was further solidified with the U.S. series "Breaking Bad," which was filmed in English and set a precedent for non-Latin American audiences.

Netflix took advantage of the trend and bet on the genre with a production that launched narco-series to international fame. It is "Narcos," a three-season Colombian-Mexican series that focuses on the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar and his struggle with the Cali Cartel and the DEA. Next came "Narcos: Mexico," a U.S.-Mexico collaboration, which explores the origins of the drug war in the Latin American country and the rise and development of the Guadalajara Cartel. Both series were highly successful internationally. According to Statista, "Narcos" was the most-watched series in November 2021 in the United States.

Where does the Success of the Narco Genre Come From?

Beyond the production and the actors and actresses who participate in this type of production, its success lies in the interest to learn more about a problem that radically crosses several Latin American countries. Hence its success in the region, where narco culture was enhanced at an artistic level. On the other hand, its success in the United States could be related to the fact that the most significant demand for illicit substances comes directly from this country. It was there that the failed war on drugs was born and where Latin American cartels have the highest turnover.

While many other U.S. productions revolve around the drug trade, those focusing on producer countries and their cultural, political, and social repercussions are particularly noteworthy.

"Medellín" would be one of the first foreign films to talk about the subject from the country where drug trafficking emerges. While it does not promise to explore the issues behind it, it demonstrates the influence of narco-series in audiovisual productions worldwide and brings a hybrid format to the table.