Opinion: Are Colombians Finally Getting Fair Portrayals in the Media? Yes and No
With the release of Disney’s “Encanto” as the most recent film featuring a plot that not only includes Colombians, but that takes place in the South American country, it seems more stories are steering away from the drug and crime-related narratives that have previously been heavily relied on.
For decades, films, songs and — more recently — series, such as “Narcos,” have latched onto Colombia’s cocaine manufacturing and export crises and the many internal socio-political issues it causes, to tell stories that, not surprisingly enough, always sell.
Though there is no denying the country’s crises — which stained Colombia’s reputation, earning it labels on news outlets and books as the ‘most dangerous country in the world,’ in the 80s and even 90s — the film industry has a hard time letting go of this narrative in Colombia-related productions.
Historically, Colombian films, which have made an international impact, such as “Maria Llena Eres de Gracia,” “Rosario Tijeras,” “La Vendedora de Rosas” and “Paraiso Travel,” all show drug-related plots. Productions such as “Narcos” and “Las Muñecas de la Mafia,” have made it nearly impossible to get away from the old and worn out stereotype that assumes all Colombians do drugs, sell drugs or are into drugs.
These films undeniably do a good job at portraying the realities of many people within underprivileged neighborhoods in countries such as Colombia — many with situations and financial needs that drive them into vicious cycles of poverty that lead to drugs, prostitution and violence. Yet, those who stand behind the camera lens and the scripts also continuously twirl around those same three topics, fetishizing and romanticizing them.
The many layers within the social spectrum of Colombian society gives filmmakers an endless plethora of stories to tell that can ultimately highlight who Colombians are: the richness of our culture, our music, our food, our love for our country, regardless of a drug-infused war.
With the release of “Encanto” and more recently within the past five years, series and novelas such as “Analia” and “La Reina del Flow,” which make it onto Netflix’s global lens, we’re finally seeing Colombia’s other side of the coin.
“La Reina del Flow,” does a bit of both. It tells the story of how a group of kids from an underprivileged commune in Medellin, Colombia, work towards their dreams of having a career in music. With Yeimy Montoya (portrayed by actress Carolina Ramirez) as the lead protagonist, the story primarily highlights the process of overcoming struggles, loving our roots and using the difficulties life puts in front of us to come back stronger. The downside of the plot is their choice of an antagonist, which, disappointingly enough, is an infamous drug lord known as Manin.
Filmed in Medellin’s Comuna Nororiental, in Barrio Manrique, “La Reina Del Flow” does a phenomenal job highlighting the musical talent of the people who live within the inner city’s spaces. The cast and production showcase the development of the music industry within Colombia’s communes — primarily from an urban pop and Reggaeton perspective — and how deeply ingrained the culture of Reggaeton is in the kids that were raised there from the early 2000s, when reggaeton as a genre was still just beginning to take up space within the music industry. The popular and catchy soundtracks used within the series are actually produced by kids who are from one of these communes, popularly known as La Comuna 13. From similar barrios come some of today’s most well known Colombian artists leading the movement on a global scale.
Best of all, shows like “La Reina del Flow” place more Colombian actors on the international spectrum, which in turn, helps diminish the stereotype of what a Colombian is supposed to look like, among other things.
People are learning that the Colombian nationality involves many ethnicities, races, religions and cultures that interweave the incredibly diverse and culturally rich people that we are. Most of all, this should signal to filmmakers who want to use Colombian people within their stories that these storylines can thrive without drug associations, too.