Cocaine Godmother probably isn’t what you expect from a Lifetime movie. It’s a gritty, take-no-prisoners biopic that leaves you breathless at times and fighting back fury at others. The film follows the life and times of Griselda Blanco, a real-life Colombian drug lord whose cocaine smuggling operation made her a billionaire. Blanco, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones in the film, was notorious for her craftiness, penchant for living in excess, and her ruthless pursuit of power and success. She’s said to have been responsible for over 200 murders and was heavily involved in the Miami Drug Wars of the '70s and '80s. Cocaine Godmother covers most of the bases, allowing Zeta-Jones the opportunity to exercise her acting range and put her own spin on a character few people are intimately familiar with.
Drugs and murder aside, though, Cocaine Godmother also examines Blanco’s bisexuality which, up until now, has seldom been explored in other media. In the film, the merciless Blanco is entranced by a woman she affectionately calls Carolina (Jenny Pellicer) and develops an intimate friendship with her.
When the two women first meet, the audience gets the sense that Blanco isn’t completely certain her advances are welcomed by Carolina and she spends a scene or two carefully navigating her attraction. But as Blanco’s cocaine business soars and her marriages of convenience come to pass, she relies on Carolina more and more to express herself both sexually and emotionally.
In one captivating sequence, Blanco is swayed from the arms of her new husband into Carolina’s for a seductive dance at her own wedding reception. It's a paradoxical moment in which Zeta-Jones’ Blanco seems full of confidence and uncertainty; she's seemingly asking questions and answering them all at the same time. Yet, the moment also speaks to her insatiability: three healthy sons, a thriving business, and a new husband are not enough. There's more pleasure, love, and success to be had. And Carolina fills her up, at least temporarily.
It’s through Carolina’s eyes that we get to see Blanco as, quite simply, a woman. Blanco can be vulnerable with Carolina in ways she can’t be with her sons, her revolving door of husbands, or her army of sinister henchmen. She's a woman at the top of her game and the only Queen Pin in the cocaine business, making it difficult for her to find people she can trust. But Carolina is a mainstay; with her, Blanco is free to reveal her hopes, her disappointments, her most urgent dilemmas. Carolina, who so often tries to be a moral compass for Blanco and her kids, listens with love and patience.
Interestingly enough, Carolina is not actually based on a real person in Griselda Blanco’s life. In the film, it appears that Blanco’s love for Carolina is meant to serve as one of the few points of sympathy in her story which is bold considering the film's context. Whether the writers knew it or not, they touched upon something unusual here by presenting a queer relationship as a marker of sympathy or even redemption in a film about Latinos. Any disruption of or deviation from the “natural” or patriarchal order is still frowned upon in Latino culture, and that Blanco’s character can really only be seen sympathetically through the lens of her romantic and sexual love for Carolina is rather moving. No matter how dire or dangerous Blanco’s circumstances, her love for Carolina persists until the end of her days which is more than she can say for any business venture, relationship, or child she gives birth to in her lifetime.
What’s especially interesting about this relationship is how easily it fits into the film’s narrative and how deep the bond between the two women appears almost from the outset. The tenderness between Blanco and Carolina is a much-welcomed reprieve from the violence and aggression of the rest of the film and, in presenting it this way, the writers give Blanco’s murderous, power-hungry personality a bit of balance.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the casting controversy surrounding this film. Many took issue with the fact that Wales native Zeta-Jones would be playing the Colombian-born Blanco, and justifiably so. In an era of film and television when Latinos are sorely underrepresented, we do need better visibility in the media. But let's try to look at the positives here.
Even with Zeta-Jones headlining the project, there’s no shortage of Latino talent in front of and behind the camera. Cocaine Godmother was directed by Mexican-born Guillermo Navarro and features a largely Latino cast and crew. Thanks to Zeta-Jones’ celebrity and unwavering drive to get the film made, these lesser-known Latino talents were given a platform for their work which, in my opinion, is hardly something to rally against or complain about.
More than anything, Cocaine Godmother is a study in human behavior and the propensity to be driven over the edge than it is an examination of the immigrant or Latino experience. It isn't necessary to know Latino culture to understand that Blanco was a psychopath. Would it have been nice to see a Latina headlining this film? Absolutely. More authentic? Of course. But we shouldn’t undermine Zeta-Jones’ ability and willingness to step outside of herself and into the shoes of a woman few of us can truly understand on a psychological level. Latina or not, playing Griselda Blanco is a mean feat and Zeta-Jones does it well enough.
Watch the trailer for Cocaine Godmother in the video below!