“Pablo Escobar: Boss of Evil” is mesmerizing television viewers in this country of 46 million. But it is sparking a debate over whether the series does too much to humanize Escobar, who won legions of admirers by building homes for the poor but also blew up an airliner and coolly ordered the killings of thousands.
“It’s a false and paltry version that will end up converting the worst criminal into an idol,” said Rodrigo Lara Restrepo, whose father, Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, was assassinated on Escobar’s orders in 1984.
The creators of the biopic, though, come from families victimized by Escobar.
Juana Uribe, a producer of the series, is the daughter of Maruja Pachon, who was kidnapped for seven months by Escobar’s henchmen, a saga memorialized in Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “News of a Kidnapping.” Uribe is also a vice president at Caracol, the network behind the series.
Her co-producer is Camilo Cano, whose father, Guillermo Cano, was the crusading editor of the newspaper El Espectador who was killed by the Medellin cartel’s hit men in 1986.
The producers say that 19 years after Escobar was gunned down on a rooftop in Medellin, it is the right time to tell his story in a fictionalized but largely true-to-life account.
“This is a way of doing a little bit of catharsis because this is what we went through, and there is no Colombian who doesn’t understand that,” Uribe said. “I had the possibility to analyze and had an open door to tell the story. I felt like we had a responsibility to do this.”
All sides of a drug lord
From the beginning, the producers and scriptwriter Juan Camilo Ferrand planned to explore Escobar from all sides.
The series, which first aired at the end of May, started out showing a headstrong boy raised in a close-knit family. He grows up to be the charming neighborhood dandy, winning the prettiest girl’s heart. Escobar later veers into Medellin’s criminal underworld, stealing cars and moving contraband before building a cocaine-trafficking empire like no other.
Andres Parra, 34, an actor who has played drug traffickers before, plays the cartel chief.
Taking a break from filming a scene on an airstrip on Colombia’s southern plains, Parra said the role has been a challenge because the Escobar in Ferrand’s script is not only a trafficker and killer but also a loving son and father. It is a side of Escobar that does not neatly line up with his popular image.
“I couldn’t understand how Pablo Escobar was able to be this wonderful father that he was to his two children and at the same time, practically in the same scene, being able to blow up a commercial airliner full of people,” Parra said. “How does this guy not feel any guilt? How can he blow up a building and just go back to his home and celebrate his 14-year-old’s birthday?”