Colombian-born Griselda Blanco ruthlessly ran the cocaine trade in Miami in the late 1970s and early ’80s, making her like other notorious crime bosses. Even though she is someone who has encountered machismo and sexism every step of the way.
The six-episode Netflix biographical series “Griselda,” starring Sofía Vergara, doesn’t exactly praise her achievements, but rather finds them extremely fascinating: What if Scarface had been a woman? (When he raises his gold-plated automatic rifle and loses his mind, you expect the words “Say hello to my little friend” to come out of his mouth.)
But a more fundamental question remains unanswered: Why is this story interesting?
It was known as The Cocaine Godmother, which would have been a catchier name for the limited series, but Lifetime bested Netflix with the 2017 biopic starring Catherine Zeta-Jones called, you guessed it, “The Cocaine Godmother.”
The real Griselda first came to the United States in the mid-1960s, and her cocaine operation had been based out of New York for about 10 years. Drug charges eventually followed and she fled back to Colombia. The series begins some time later with Griselda in an abusive marriage, and she escapes by going to Miami with her sons. According to the concept of the series, he does his best to survive; Whether it’s killing a man or smuggling a kilo of cocaine into Miami.
Even though he has a potentially new start ahead of him, he returns to what he knows: the drug business. Despite what he says, it’s not about financial stability for his children, it’s about becoming the dominant figure in Miami.
This is a completely different kind of role for Vergara, known for her Emmy-nominated role on “Modern Family,” and her performance here is compelling on those terms alone. Griselda’s charm is decidedly transactional when she turns it on. And it comes with a harsh edge that comes from experience. Violence around him or at his hand can momentarily stun him. But she was never forced to walk away. No fear is too scary. His spirit was already broken. What matters is his rise. They say your worth isn’t determined by your career, but try telling that to Griselda. Maybe that’s why she rejects the cartel’s $50 million buyout offer. However, as written, the character is an enigma. He is always an underrated, combative and underdog, but these external characteristics tell us little about his inner life. This is a woman who names her youngest son Michael Corleone, and that decision alone reveals much more about her state of mind and the life she wants for her children than what is shown on screen.
The series comes from the same creative team behind Netflix’s “Narcos” and is a look at the rise of Griselda (a woman who punches the cartel’s glass ceiling) and eventual fall. He eventually spent time in prison. All but one of his sons were killed before he was killed in 2012. He was responsible for countless other deaths, and although his story is a tragedy, it is a story of his own making.
The show’s most interesting move is when Griselda establishes a through line between the allure of cocaine and her theories about her own death: “This is the land of dreams,” she says. “But it turns out that there are people here whose dreams have already come true. And when your dreams come true, you lose something precious: the feeling that comes with something new, something unexpected. The people I’m talking about are white. And rich. Those motherfuckers who have it all. “They represent a huge untapped market that no one has thought of tapping.”
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Coke was already popular among the wealthy (in 1974, the New York Times Magazine called it “the champagne of drugs”), but by the time Griselda reached its peak in the ’80s, it had become exactly what it described. Besides cocaine, he was now after that elusive thrill at the end of a crack pipe. Paranoia followed him, turning him into a frightening (well, even scarier) and unstable caricature of his former self.
Supporting cast standouts include Alberto Guerra as Griselda’s quietly devoted bodyguard-turned-lover, and Martín Rodriguez as another butler and advisor who brings a mystical energy to his work. They exist to facilitate Griselda’s determined quest to reach the top, where the air is thin and she can barely breathe, let alone think properly.
Hence the relentless pursuit of success; It’s never enough. This is a truth that is true everywhere in American capitalism. Or as scientist Nate Holdren observed On the skepticism underlying this mindset: “A business that does not suffer financial losses at the expense of other people dying is a successful organization.” Griselda embraced this disgusting truth to the fullest. Unlike most industry captains, he paid the price for it.
“Griselda” — 2 stars (out of 4)
Where to watch: netflix
Nina Metz is a Tribune critic.