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‘Griselda’ gets chilly response in her native Colombia

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BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Netflix has plastered the globe with advertisements for its new show “Griselda,” based on the life of Colombian drug trafficker Griselda Blanco. Marketing campaigns have featured a truck snorting lines of fake cocaine off a street in Paris and an airport baggage claim display of suitcases stuffed with cash.

Here in Bogotá, the Colombian capital, billboards advertising the series are everywhere. But the show — which focuses on Blanco’s rise as a top trafficker in 1970s Miami — has garnered a chilly reception among some, who fear it glorifies a bygone era of rampant violence and drugs and furthers stereotypes of Colombians as criminals exporting that turmoil to the United States and beyond.

Colombians “have tried very hard to change” those perceptions of “everyone selling drugs and being very violent,” said María del Rosario León, a 27-year-old data analyst who was shopping with friends at a mall in Bogotá on Saturday afternoon. “Showing this story, with Griselda as the heroine, she’s reinstating this prejudice that we have.”

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León said she was “really disappointed in Sofia Vergara,” the Colombian actress known for her role as Gloria Pritchett in ABC’s “Modern Family.” Karol G, a Colombian reggaeton star, also appears in the show.

“We should be careful about what we are being recognized for,” León said.

The six-episode “Griselda” — the top English-language show in Colombia and around the world, according to figures published by Netflix — comes from the creators of “Narcos,” the wildly popular show that chronicled the rise and fall of Colombian kingpin Pablo Escobar.

In “Narcos,” Escobar is vilified, with the show — spoiler alert — culminating in his assassination after a manhunt. The heroes in the series are two American drug enforcement agents.

“Griselda,” however, features Blanco as an underdog, a woman from Medellín fighting an uphill battle in a male-dominated industry. León said it was “exciting in some ways seeing a woman be the heroine,” but she fears the show was digging up a sordid history at the expense of the many Colombians eager to move past it. Blanco is relatively unknown among many Colombians compared with Escobar.

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Tours focusing on the life of Escobar are frowned upon in Medellín. City officials last year sought to demolish one of his homes, which had served as a museum. Some Colombians even avoid uttering his name, like the villain Voldemort in the Harry Potter books, said Daniel Santiago Páez, 31, who leads horseback riding tours at a ranch outside Bogotá.

But at least “Narcos” was filmed in Colombia, opening doors for similarly ambitious projects, Páez said. And it showed real footage of the kingpin, with context of the terror that spread across Colombia during his reign. “Griselda,” Páez said, “just reinforces a stereotype of violence and drug consumption.”

The series has also been criticized for lack of input from Blanco’s family. Her son Michael Corleone has filed a lawsuit in Florida arguing that the show was an “unauthorized” use of his mother’s likeness and identity.

“My frustration is the fact that they never reached out. They didn’t show the respect,” Corleone told The Washington Post. He said it wasn’t a matter of money so much as a matter of respect for the woman whose story Netflix was profiting from.

“You wouldn’t steal from my mother if she was live, so how dare you steal from her son and her family?” he said.

Netflix did not respond to requests for comment.

Diego Cortes, an assistant professor of media studies at the University of Oregon, said the series was regurgitating tired stereotypes of Colombians: “We have watched ‘Griselda’ thousands of times before.”

While he said it was beneficial that Colombian actors were starring in the show — Escobar was played by a Brazilian actor in “Narcos” — that success for a handful of actors came at the expense of other Colombians.

The show has succeeded, however, in “turning a mirror” onto Americans about their role in the drug trafficking industry, said Cortes, who is from Bogotá. The series shows how Blanco targeted affluent, White Americans as cocaine customers, unlocking a vast and profitable market.

Cortes said the show was a guilty pleasure for many Americans — something “you really like, but are ashamed of.”

Samantha Schmidt contributed to this report.

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