Listed as one of the best drama series by Business Insider, Netflix original “Narcos” stunned viewers with their first season which aired in August 2015. Some viewers described the show as electrifying, suspenseful, intense, mind-blowing and addicting – the same type of adjectives that are often used to describe other narco narratives. From Spanish-language novelas such as “La Reina del Sur,” “La Viuda Negra,” and “Dueños del Paraíso,” to Hollywood films such as “Clear and Present Danger,” “Collateral Damage,” and “Delta Force 2,” entertainment and the storyline of narcos go hand in hand. More often than not, these storylines are set in Colombia and the image of narcos is glorified, which is what you see in hip hop trio Migos’ music video, “Narcos.” All throughout the music video you see women in bathing suits and wealthy men holding guns, accompanied by song lyrics such as “trapping like the narco, got dope like Pablo,” “I just put a pack on the way to Bogota,” and “10 mil’ on a plane, going straight to Medellin.” However, despite the 290k likes this music video has reached on YouTube and despite the three seasons “Narcos” now has on Netflix, the success of this content doesn’t resonate well with Colombian natives.
In an essay written by Colombian native Bernardo Aparicio García, the writer speaks on the Netflix series “Narcos” and says, “I knew nothing about this new show, and that’s how I wanted to keep things. Critics had compared Narcos to Breaking Bad and Goodfellas, but what Colombian could view the story of Pablo Escobar as entertainment?”
Also in response to the show “Narcos,” Colombian native Felipe Torres Medina emphasizes in his essay, “Colombia doing well is great for Colombia, but bad for Hollywood. It’s just not a great story. No one wants to hear about biodiversity or the Peace Process that will end the longest armed conflict in the Americas, because that doesn’t fit the narrative they are selling to the United States.”
This narrative of Colombia that “doesn’t fit” in the world of entertainment is the exact narrative a campaign called Colombian Ambush is trying to push. In a four episode series, this campaign creatively tackles the stereotypes of Colombia that are often presented in film and television. Mitú spoke to a few of the talented folks who brought this campaign to life, including Creative Director Ciro Sarmiento, Director Simon Brand, and Executive Producer Marcos Cline.
While every video has a different storyline, they all work collectively to deliver the same message: “There’s a [deeper] background and history to this country.”
This collective message starts to build right away in the video “See the REAL target in their sights.”
The beginning of this video alludes to a very suspenseful and possibly dangerous scene, as is common in most narcos related film and television, then there’s an unexpected reveal: the beautiful Piranga Leucoptera.
“What we really wanted to use was that preconception of what Colombia is and what the American audience thinks of Colombia and use that content and atmosphere to let them think that this was another Colombian narco movie. And once they become engaged with the content, we ambush them with real facts about the country,” said the Colombian Ambush team.
This type of creative angle ties directly to the tagline of the campaign: Fighting the stereotype with the stereotype. “So in a way, we did use the stereotype image to fight against it because we knew that was the way to get American audiences compelled to watch the content,” the team explained.
This same angle is also applied to the video “What REAL Colombian women have to offer.”
This video begins with a scene of a Colombian woman dancing while preparing herself an alcoholic beverage. A man walks up behind her and wraps his arms around her, beginning to flirt and ask her for salsa dance lessons. Even though this introduction hints at the stereotype of Colombian women being hyper-sexualized and only being valued for their physical appearances, the storyline then takes you in a different direction. Instead of giving the man salsa dance lessons like he requests, she informs him about Diana Trujillo. Trujillo is a Colombiana and an aerospace engineer who led the NASA Mars Curiosity Rover mission.
Even though not everyone might know who Diana Trujillo is and why she is such an important figure, the goal of the Colombian Ambush team is to educate foreign audiences little by little. “This is not something that will happen in one day, so we believe that this is an effort that can help towards that final goal of cleaning the image that Colombia has outside. But it takes a lot of work and effort and consistency,” said the Colombian Ambush team.
In addition to the stereotype of Colombian women being over-sexualized, this campaign also tackles the stereotype of Colombian men being dangerous drug traffickers.
Two men in a vehicle driving late at night on a lonely road will conjure up narco-themed media. Suddenly, they are pulled over by police enforcement. The context of this scene gives you the impression that either the two men in the vehicle are up to something bad or the police officers who pull them over are on the brink of doing something bad. However, once the officer and the men in the vehicle begin to exchange dialogue, you discover that the driver and the passenger are on their way back from visiting the Gold Museum, located in Bogotá. Rather than this exchange between the officer and the men in the vehicle turning into a bloody drug brawl, they all have an intimate conversation about El Museo del Oro.
“It’s a fascinating piece of information presented in a disruptive way,” as Executive Producer Marcos Cline said. And it’s this surprise element that comes with each video that leads viewers to respond with comments such as: “Wow, I didn’t realize this particular aspect about Colombia.”
“That to me is the important thing, to establish a pattern in which we can focus on positive aspects and positive contributions that not just Colombia, but any country has to the world,” emphasized Cline.
The final video of this series presents you with another common stereotype of Colombian patróns.
As is the case in several narco narratives presented through film and television, there is one person who takes on the role of the patrón (the boss). In the Netflix series “Narcos” for example, the patrón is Pablo Escobar – a dangerous and intimidating man who is in power of the entire drug cartel and is feared by many.
These exact characteristics of the patrón are presented by the man in this short video who sits on the armchair, smoking a cigar. As this man is presented with a briefcase, an audience member who is only familiar with the Hollywood narco narrative might assume that there are drugs being carried in that briefcase. However, once this briefcase is opened, you see the titles of different books written by Gabriel García Márquez – a Colombian Nobel Laureate and an extremely influential writer.
The goal of tackling these stereotypes goes far beyond Colombia, the Colombian Ambush team agreed.
“I think that any country in the world can probably argue that their portrayal in the media or people’s beliefs of what they’re like are not really accurate,” Cline said. “And so I think one of the reasons why this campaign is so successful is not just the fact that it’s relatable, but also because it leaves those little bits and pieces of information that are unexpected and that are positive.”
Director Simon Brand points at a recent example that is evidence as to why this campaign is so significant to their team.
Mr. #johnoliver first let me say I’m a big fan. Really. But I have to say I’m disappointed . You recently made some inaccurate and stereotype based allegations against #colombia that clearly illustrates the motivation behind our new #colombianambush campaign . CNN suggests you watch all the episodes. maybe even screen them on your show. U know what? I challenge you to do that. There’s always a first step in redemption. Gracias @cnnee for suggesting it #johnoliverwatchcolombianambush
Colombian Ambush challenges foreign audiences to remove the stereotypical lens of this country. Instead, Colombian Ambush wants audiences to look at Colombia with a fresh set of eyes.
When asked to describe Colombia, Executive Producer Cline said, “It’s a dynamic, diverse, forward thinking country that has gone through the same culinary explosion that a few different countries have gone through. Similar to Mexico, where the conquest was not only military but religious, they have an incredibly long history deeply attached to European roots as well and you can notice that in some of the architecture. Aside from all of that, it’s one of these countries where people are happy.”
Along with this description, it’s important to keep in mind that Cline himself is not Colombian, yet he was able to illustrate this country with so many words besides drugs, narcos, cocaine, sexy women and beaches. If this campaign can get more people to describe Colombia in more detailed, intricate and diverse ways, then maybe the same goal can be reached for other countries.