The Narconnaissance? The Medellingularity? La Narconquista? Pabloverload? Call it what you will, Escobar-themed entertainment is booming.
Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria— the Colombian drug kingpin who mercilessly butchered his countrymen while cultivating a meticulously crafted public image as a family man, billionaire philanthropist, and even populist congressman—has already been the subject of hundreds of books and at least one major film, 2014’s Paradise Lost. Two more big-budget productions are slated for 2017 release: El Patron: King of Cocaine, featuring Colombian-born John Leguizamo in the title role, and Mena, rather ominously starring Tom Cruise as DEA informant Barry Seal, one of Escobar’s victims. There have likewise been several adaptations of the Escobar epic for television, including 2012’s Escobar, El Patron del Mal, a wonderfully comprehensive and at times achingly cathartic Colombian treatment, spanning nearly 50 hours of running time, and now Netflix’s Narcos—perhaps the most ambitious salvo of the current Escobarrage.
Nearly 22 years have passed since the murderous drug baron, capo di tutti capi of the feared Medellín cartel, was felled by machine-gun fire while attempting a dramatic rooftop escape from a Colombian special-ops unit set up to hunt him. Legend is often the kindlier, comelier sister to truth, and reactions to Escobar’s violent death were as varied as the figure he cut in life. To many of the poor in his native Medellin, he was a modern-day Robin Hood, standing up to a heavy-handed and distant national government, while building everything from a soccer stadium to housing for the area’s most vulnerable citizens. So while Escobar’s killers posed for celebratory photographs alongside his mangled corpse and returned home to official commendations, his funeral ranked alongside those of Hugo Chavez and Evita Peron among South America’s best-attended (despite the latter two being lavishly funded, regime-backed affairs).