‘Griselda’ review: A cushy feminist portrait of the ‘Cocaine Godmother’
(Credits: Netflix)


‘Griselda’ review: A cushy feminist portrait of the 'Cocaine Godmother'

Griselda - Andrés Baiz

Often, when a piece of art begins by quoting another, it tends to render itself reductive. Griselda begins by quoting Pablo Escobar, who once allegedly said, “The only man I was ever afraid of was a woman named Griselda Blanco.” The introduction primes us for the emergence of a formidable antihero. But, instead of an unyielding force, we witness an underdog’s journey characterised by soft edges and hesitant ambitions.

Sofía Vergara’s Griselda is not the spitfire that is Gloria Pritchett (Modern Family). Vergara hides behind her prosthetics well. But the letdown is that her Blanco is never quite as overtly ruthless as the real-life inspiration behind her character, not even as the ticker quote at the beginning of the series builds her up to be. Vergara, as dynamic as she is, doesn’t play Griselda with as much ferocity or intimidating psychopathy, choosing instead to infuse the character with a fairly odd blend of maternal sensitivity and reluctant assertiveness for the most part.

The story begins in the middle of a harrowing night in 1978. We meet a bloody Blanco covering up a gunshot wound with a sanitary napkin—undeniable feminist symbolism—before fleeing her Medellín mansion for the sunny shores of Miami, her three sons in tow. Barring a few personal items, all she has with her is a kilo of coke and a bag full of dreams. Soon enough, the ever-resourceful Blanco gathers her motley crew of drug dealers and traffickers. 

What begins as a means to get back what she is owed soon snowballs into an empire that was worth billions at one point. Her rise is rushed past, while her struggles are always centred on humanising her. Griselda’s only worthy adversary happens to be another Latina, Juliana Aidén Martinez’s June Hawkins. The Miami detective was the first to spot Blanco’s rise to prominence, miles ahead of her male colleagues, who were too busy cracking sexist jokes at her expense. 

There’s a parallel between Blanco and Hawkins, both mothers charting their paths in a world dominated by men, but Blanco gets most of the screen time and character development, not Hawkins. 

Created by Doug Miro, Eric Newman, Carlo Bernard, and Ingrid Escajeda, Griselda is directed by Andrés Baiz, the six-part limited series manages to defy many stereotypes and deliver a more complex portrayal of the notorious Griselda Blanco, aka the ‘Godmother of Cocaine’. In a world where women smuggle drugs across borders in cocaine-filled bras, Griselda sometimes manages to present a subversion of the typical narrative surrounding badass women. Vergara’s Griselda is a mother and matriarch first, a drug queenpin second.

At points, this feels like a feminist whitewashing of a woman who murdered innocents, waged countless turf wars—affectionately named ‘Cocaine Cowboy Wars’, and mercilessly eliminated all those who stood in her path. A basic overview of intersectional feminism would illustrate that merely occupying a position of power, akin to male counterparts in a patriarchal society, does not inherently align with feminist principles. But Fleabag demonstrated quite eloquently that we are all bad feminists, and so was Griselda.

She is surrounded by a few good (looking) men and some soul-searching crackpots on peyote—an empress surrounded by her advisors, lovers, and assassins. Then there are the Marielitos, a group of Cuban immigrants who see her as a saint. The men are either entirely enamoured with her or completely threatened by her—there is no in-between. The supporting cast, including Alberto Guerra as Blanco’s bodyguard-turned-husband Darío and Martin Rodriguez as Rivi, deliver solid performances.

Despite its flaws, Griselda is largely well-paced, even when it takes its sweet time to build Blanco up. The fact that the same creative team behind Narcos made Griselda, means the world-building is consistent, the cinematography serves its purpose, and the music never overshadows the scenes. Ultimately, Griselda explores the idea that the higher you rise, the lonelier it gets, and neurotic paranoia just comes with the territory. Some may find the choice to portray Griselda as a softer, more sympathetic character a disservice to the legacy of terror Blanco left behind. But stripping her of her femininity and maternal instincts could have opened up another can of feminist worms.

You can watch Griselda on Netflix when it starts streaming on January 25th, 2024.