I’m not particularly a fan of narco dramas. They often rely too much on Latino and Latin American stereotypes and do a lot to play into white fear. That said, the NARCOS franchise on Netflix has been able to show how to use the genre in effective ways and to launch careers for its Latino actors from the series into more mainstream roles. Griselda is the latest effort for Netflix within the NARCOS world. Co-created by NARCOS and NARCOS: Mexico showrunner Eric Newman and Doug Miro, Ingrid Escajeda & Carlo Bernard. Additionally, director Andrés Baiz directs all six episodes, with Sofía Vergara serving as a much-needed perspective as Executive Producer.
Netflix’s Griselda is a fictionalized dramatization inspired by the life of Griselda Blanco, who created one of the most powerful cartels in history. Played by Vergara, Griselda’s story is set in 1970s-80s Miami. From a woman trying to escape Colombia and her husband’s cartel involvement to becoming a vicious power herself, Vergara brings a terrifying woman to life on screen. Blanco’s lethal blend of unsuspected savagery and charm helps her expertly navigate between business and family. Her facade of empathy makes her violence all the more shocking, leading her to become widely known as “the Godmother.”
Griselda is mean and has a bite that you wouldn’t expect. As the titular character, Sofia Vergara, shows audiences exactly why she has been in the acting business for so long, from telenovelas to her work on American series. Vergara is here because it is undeniably good. In addition to Vergara, the series stars Alberto Guerra, Christian Tappan, Martín Rodríguez, Juliana Aidén Martinez, Vanessa Ferlito, and, making her on-screen debut, Carolina Giraldo (a.k.a Karol G). The series uses each actor to the fullest at every turn throwing them into action and cartel intrigue, all beholden to Vergara’s whims.
Sofia Vergara is a versatile actress. She dynamically transforms from a loving mother to a beautiful woman manipulating men and then to an intimidating vehicle for violence. As Griselda, Vergara explores femininity and power in a visceral and almost disturbing way. If we have to have narco dramas, they need to be as compelling as this. Vegara is an actress capable of shaking mountains with her voice and violence in a way I didn’t know was possible before this limited series.
My hope is that Griselda launches Vegara into a new stage of her career as the other Netflix series did for actors like Pedro Pascal. Her dynamic voice, emotive facial expressions (even below heavy make-up), and unflinching approach to violence is stunning. Sofia Vergara isn’t just worthy of your attention; she demands it. It’s hard to act in one language, but in Griselda, Vergara makes it all look easy in two.
While the Narco franchise on Netflix has been critically acclaimed over its multiple seasons and iterations, even so, Griselda represents a different take on the drama subgenre on Netflix. The limited series explores the way that gender impacts life at every turn and, more specifically, how it shackles Latinas into boxes created and maintained by the men in their culture. Machismo reigns supreme, and instead of letting it keep her exploited and restrained, Griselda bashes it in with a baseball bat. The Godmother is viciously protective of her territory, her power, and her family.
Griselda doesn’t break from the narco-drama expectations in terms of violence or setting. It leans on tropes throughout its six episodes. That said, it uses them and turns the camera to women in a way that makes it all feel unique in the larger landscape. Additionally, the series takes place in Miami, which allows it to explore racism as we see cops attempt to stop the “brown wave of crime.” While it’s not a primary focus, it does color the audience’s relation to Griselda compellingly.
At the beginning of the series, Griselda exhibits some restraint and morality. But as she is continually undermined and attacked, she throws it out the window. She becomes as ruthless as the people she stood against and strikes fear into the men around her. Be they lover or enemy, it’s not through kindness or motherly care that The Godmother builds her empire, but through resolute violence.
This keeps the series from heading into Girlboss territory and shows its titular character as a powerful queenpin, with her villainy and violence not softened because of her gender. She is a part of a system that throws women away. That turns children into orphans. That punishes the wives and girlfriends of men who made decisions that they had no control over. She runs it and contributes to it, even when she pushes back on it to benefit herself.
Griselda is easily the best of Netflix’s NARCOS series, and that’s thanks to Vergara’s performance and her clear focus on the feminine experience in this violent world that she brought as executive producer. This approach to the genre isn’t only interesting but needed. Women in narco tales are often reduced to fodder, as they are in real life. Exploring how The Godmother broke and reinforced this reality substantially pushes the series forward.
Griselda is streaming now, exclusively on Netflix.
Griselda is easily the best of Netflix’s NARCOS series, and that’s thanks to Vergara’s performance and her clear focus on the feminine experience in this violent world that she brought as executive producer.