Things That Matter

If You’re Tired Of Hollywood’s Portrayal Of Colombia, Here’s A Video Series You’ll Want To Watch

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.

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.


READ: Two Latinx Women Are Tackling Major Issues In Their Community One Podcast At A Time

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America Ferrera Recounts Her First Hollywood Audition Where She Was Asked to Sound “More Latina”

Entertainment

America Ferrera Recounts Her First Hollywood Audition Where She Was Asked to Sound “More Latina”

The 72nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards were held on Sunday, and big-name stars gathered to celebrate and acknowledge groundbreaking television programs. One of the celebrities that made a special appearance was America Ferrera.

In a segment called “This Is What I Sound Like,” Ferrera spoke about her troubling experiences as a young Latina actress just starting off in Hollywood.

Before the segment, “Grown-ish” actress Yara Shahidi introduced the segment, emphasizing the importance of representation onscreen.

“The stories we tell on TV shape how we see ourselves and others,” she said. “And how we are seen can many times determine how we are treated. The dream of television is the freedom to live our full and nuanced lives outside of boxes and assumptions.”

In a pre-recorded segment, Ferrera then described her first audition in Hollywood–an experience that ended up being a formative one.

“I was 16-years-old when I got my very first audition and I was this little brown chubby Valley Girl who spoke, you know, like a Valley Girl,” Ferrera explained. “I walked in, did my audition. The casting director looked at me and was like, ‘That’s great. Can you do that again, but this time, sound ‘more Latina?””

According to Ferrera, she asked the casting director whether she wanted her to do the audition in Spanish. The casting director declined. Ferrera tried to explain the contradiction of the directions, telling the casting director: “I am a Latina and this is what I sound like.” Needless to say, she did not get the part.

When she went home to tell her family the story, they seemed unsurprised by the blatant stereotyping Ferrera was facing. They told her that the entertainment industry will want her to “speak in broken English” and “sound like a chola”.

“What did you think was gonna happen?” her family members asked her. “[Hollywood was] gonna have you starring in the next role made for Julia Roberts?”

According to Ferrera, the realization that Hollywood saw her in a different way than she saw herself made her want to “create more opportunity for little brown girls to fulfill their talent and their dream.”

NEWMARKET FILMS

Since then, the Honduran-American actress has starred in numerous projects that illustrate the diversity of the Latinx experience in America, from “Real Women Have Curves” to “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” to “Ugly Betty“. Most recently, Ferrera dipped her toe into the producing waters with the bilingual Netflix series “Gentified“.

Although Ferrera is putting in the work for more Latinx representation onscreen, the Television Academy still has a long way to go when it comes to recognizing Latinx talent. Unfortunately, the only Latino person nominated for an Emmy this year was Argentine-Mexican actress Alexis Bledel for her work in “The Handmaid’s Tale”.

Here’s to hoping that Latinos like America Ferrera will continue to make their voices heard, giving inspiration to little brown girls everywhere who want nothing more than to see themselves onscreen.

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#BlackLivesMatter Is Trending In Colombia After Five Black Teens Were Killed While Playing On Their Street

Things That Matter

#BlackLivesMatter Is Trending In Colombia After Five Black Teens Were Killed While Playing On Their Street

Luis Robayo / Getty Images

Despite countrywide stay-at-home orders that are among the world’s most strict, and even cartel-enforced lockdowns, crime is on the rise across Colombia. The increase has been driven by massacre-style attacks on the country’s most vulnerable communities: Afro-Colombians and Indigenous groups.

The recent torture and murder of five black teens who had stepped outside to fly kites, has reignited the conversation on race and how the government can step up to make sure minority groups across the country can be better protected.

A group of Afro-Latino teens were found tortured and murdered in Cali, Colombia.

Five Black teenagers left their homes in a neighborhood in Cali, Colombia, to fly their kites and play on a recent August morning. The young friends, aged between 14 and 18, didn’t show up at home for lunch. By midday, their mothers were looking for them.

“The boys were found tortured, burned, with machete and bullet wounds,” said Erlendy Cuero, a social leader from Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city. “Right now, the people who live here are sad but also very scared.”

Community members recently led a protest denouncing racism and violence inflicted by the Colombian state, and demanding justice for the murdered teens and other Afro-Colombian people who’ve been killed.

The mother of one of the Cali victims said: “Because we’re vulnerable and black, lots of people think they can walk all over us and forget about what happened to our children. Don’t let it be forgotten.”

The brutal killings are a reminder to Colombians that ethnic minorities are the most affected by violence.

Credit: Luis Robayo / Getty Images

Colombia is a country that has grown accustom to violence, but the massacre of these Black teens has shocked the country as a whole. And it’s brought to light a very real issue of racism in the country and shown exactly which communities suffer the most: ethnic minorities.

The recent masacre has also illuminated cracks in the still fragile peace deal between the government and former-FARC rebels. Just days after the boys were found murdered, a grenade was thrown at the police station in Llano Verde. The attack injured 15 people and left one man dead.

“We can’t assure they’re related, but neither can we rule out that hypothesis,” said Jorge Iván Ospina, Cali’s mayor.

The communities that suffer the most from widespread violence, are the Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities. They have little protection from the central government in Bogota. However, it appears that finally, Colombians are starting to realize that peace will never be possible without listening to those communities who are most affected by violence.

Massacres are on the rise across the country, despite countrywide stay-at-home orders.

Colombia has been under one of the world’s longest running lockdown orders thanks to the Coronavirus. However, the number of massacres carried out this year is record breaking. In 2020, there have been at least 43 massacres leaving at least 181 dead.

The majority of them are taking place in the country’s south-west, home to larger populations of Afro-Colombians and Indigenous communities. Although responsibility for the massacres remains unclear, the government is pointing fingers at drug cartels. Families of victims though disagree, saying that their loved ones had no involvement with the drug trade.

A frequent complaint in these areas is that there is no government presence, allowing elements of armed groups that did not accept the peace agreements made in 2016 by the previous government of Juan Manuel Santos to fight for control of territory. 

The massacres are at least bringing forth a conversation on race and vulnerable communities in the country.

From police brutality to government indifference, Black and Indigenous Colombians live very different lives from the rest of the country. They’re more often targeted for abuse by police, they’re more likely to fall victim to massacres, and the government affords them little in the way of official protections from discrimination.

The recent murder of the teens from Cali, is finally bringing the #BlackLivesMatter conversation to a country that has long denied the existence of racism within its borders.

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