Is Making TV shows of Controversial Figures Dangerous?


Left to right: Poster of Sony’s upcoming series “El Comandante” about Venezuelan ex-president Hugo Chavez; Poster found in the streets of Barcelona with a picture of Narcos’ main actor on it and a “bounty” for his character’s, Pablo Escobar, capture.

The life of famous drug lord Pablo Escobar is no secret. By becoming the centerpiece of Netflix’s original Narcos and Colombian television’s version El patron del mal, in recent years, Escobar has been immortalized as a pop culture persona. The more widely acclaimed Narcos has become, the more people have reacted to its accuracy in portraying a nation’s story. Although it is important to examine history, it is equally important to question the possible dangers of wrongly portraying such impactful events. Or whether there is any difference between recounting the life of someone as as positively memorable as say, Nelson Mandela, versus telling the story of a man as morally controversial as Escobar.

It may seem innocent at first look, a mere recreation made simply for entertainment. The legacy these series have left behind, however, prove otherwise. Narcos’ main character has been lauded and the show itself has caused furor amongst watchers. However, there have been negative responses, notably from Colombians and people of of Latin American origin who remember this time period. Although not all think the same, to many the course of events form part of very recent Colombian history, and so there are wounds that remain open. Others have accepted it as a consequence to their history, mixed emotions come from the fact that Escobar was as hated by many as he was loved by others in the country. However, there is a line between the perception of Colombians and that of those who have come to learn about this period of the country’s history through the series. Reactions have surpassed the line of understanding the series as pure entertainment to create a cult and an ambiance of admiration towards such a character, blurring the line between entertainment and reality.

As the aforementioned, it does not come as a surprise that Latin America’s Sony Pictures Television has decided to produce a new show based on Venezuelan ex-president  Hugo Chavez’s life. The series will be known as El Comandante and is presumed to be released in 2017. Though there is a difference between portraying cartel leader Pablo Escobar and the president of a nation, similarities can be found. Both characters were of strong personalities and drive, their determination allowed them to lead and convince the masses of a reality of their own. They moved mountains and people to satisfy their whims, whether it was for their own good or in the deceased president’s case, the justification was for the “good of the people”. This is displayed in the poster for the the El Comandante series, “The power of passion, and the passion for power.” They were determined in their cause, commonly identified as power. And after all, Escobar did attain the status of Senator of Colombia and Chavez did resort to violence in a failed coup six years before he was elected president.

Reactions to the announcement of the series were varied, amongst which a Venezuelan journalist posted on Twitter, “I hope that you guys already know that Hugo Chávez is everything but a hero. Regards, Venezuela.” Government official and cousin of the deceased Asdrubal Chavez told the Associated Press (AP), “We would appreciate if the memory of our eternal commander was respected in this series. That it is not subject to deviations, bad interpretations, but that the truth of who he was is told, a man of integrity, very responsible with his nation, one who defended our humble nation…”

Others feel differently, Cesar Miguel Rondón, a known scripter, producer and journalist who is presumed to be involved in the making of the series has broken silence about the portrayal of the character and the impact it could cause, specially to his followers, according to a statement to the AP, he believes there will be a shock when Chavez’s true self is revealed.

Hopefully, the portrayal of the “commander” will be more accurate and the line between entertainment and reality fixed – this is a country’s story we are talking about. We are talking about events with less than three years of occurrence. Perhaps this is how Venezuela’s cry for help might finally be grasped, by reaching if only a margin of the success Narcos has had. Maybe then will the international community show real interest in over the 100 political prisoners, the students hurt and even killed during the 2014 protests, the country’s debt payment of 13$ billion over the next year, the increased lack and rationing of food, the elevated infant mortality, and the ever-growing crime, violence and utmost fear Venezuelans face every day.