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DPA Podcast Episode 44: Screenwriter Priscila García-Jacquier on Challenging the Narcos Narrative

Have you ever noticed just how many series, films and documentaries focus on the drug trade? The “narcos” narrative is so popular, and so ingrained, that it’s universally known. It's also really problematic, and on this episode, we'll do some digging into why. Screenwriter and director Priscila García-Jacquier was born and raised in Colombia, whose economy, people, and reputation have been intimately affected by drugs. “For countries so shaped by the drug trade, whenever I read about it, it feels more like I'm doing 23andme than just like reading about history, you know?" Priscila connected with Jeannette Zanipatin, DPA’s California State Director, and Alexis Martin, DPA’s Development Manager, to talk about challenging the story we so often see, while also considering larger questions around cultural perspective, Latinx identity, and harmful stereotypes. 

You can keep up with Priscila’s work at her website, priscilagarciajacquier.com, and on her Instagram @priscilagarciajacquier and Twitter @priscilagarciaj. Her show Blindspotting is currently airing on Starz.

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Follow us on Twitter @drugsnstuffDPA

Transcript

Intro  (0:02)  

Welcome to Drugs and Stuff, a podcast from the Drug Policy Alliance.

 

Gabriella Miyares  (0:09)  

Hello and welcome to another episode of Drugs and Stuff. I'm your host, Gabriella Miyares. Over the last year or so, we've all been spending a lot more time at home. And for many of us, that means we've been watching a little more TV than usual. Have you ever aimlessly scrolled through Netflix, or Amazon Prime, or Hulu, or whatever your streaming service of choice may be, and noticed just how many series, films and documentaries focus on the drug trade? The Narcos narrative is so popular, and so ingrained, that is often taken for granted. It's also really problematic, and on this episode, we'll do some digging into why. We sat down with Priscila Garcia-Jacquier, a television writer and director with Colombian roots, to talk about challenging the story we so often see, while also considering larger questions around cultural perspective, identity, and harmful stereotypes. Let's listen in.

 

Jeannette Zanipatin  (1:10) 

So hello, my name is Jeannette Zanipatin, and I'm the California State Director for Drug Policy Alliance. I'm joined today by my colleague Alexis.

 

Alexis Martin  (1:19)  

Hi, my name is Alexis Martin, and I'm the Development Manager for DPA.

 

Jeannette Zanipatin  (1:24)  

And we are both thrilled to welcome Priscila Garcia-Jacquier to the podcast today. Priscila is a writer and director, named a Television Academy Young Writer to Watch, and is a native of both France and Colombia. Thanks so much for joining us.

 

Priscila Garcia-Jacquier  (1:41)  

Thanks so much for having me. I'm really excited to be here, super passionate about this.

 

Alexis Martin  (1:45)  

So a lot of our conversation today is going to revolve around harmful stereotypes that exist around drug use, and the drug trade. And some of those are cultural, and some come from the media. So you wrote a Twitter thread recently, which was actually the inspiration for us having you on the podcast, where you talked about why the narcos story we see so often in popular shows and films is problematic. Can you tell us a little bit more about your take on that and what inspired you to write about it?

 

Priscila Garcia-Jacquier  (2:16)  

Sure. So I'm a screenwriter, by trade. That's my métier. And I am, as you mentioned, I'm Colombian born and raised. And like most Colombians have, you know, I have no degree of separation from the drug trade, right? Like there's barely any Colombian that you will meet alive today, who's not been directly impacted by the drug trade and the legacy of narco trafficking, then and now. And as a screenwriter I have often experienced in Los Angeles, and in my industry, when so many of my scripts are about my life, and the life of my family. Again, like the line between, the line between writing about what you know, and narcissism is very fine. But my scripts are about my life, and my family. And I have often gotten the feedback from producers that they tell me, Hey, we're actually not really that interested in telling stories about the drug trade or stories about narcos or anything like that anymore. And I don't come from a narco trafficking family, but I do come from a political family. And I always thought, well, this is a, this is a deep form of erasure. Because the reason that the -- we know this, this is like part of the Nielsen reports -- is that it's been reported that Narcos narratives are the most hurtful to the Latino community, Latinx community, Latina community. And I'm a firm believer that the reason that that has happened is because white American men have had the monopoly, historically, on being able to tell those stories they've never been written or centered by people who have actually survived them. And so I'm passionate about it. I'm passionate about, you know, I understand that we don't want to normalize violence on a screen. But again, if every Colombian person has been directly impacted by this and most of Latin America, to withdraw, or to take away this history, from the telling of any story of ours, is, renders those stories complete -- completely incomplete. Right?

 

Jeannette Zanipatin  (4:24)  

So Priscila, you mentioned that you were raised in Colombia, and then your father is a politician as well in Colombia, and in US pop culture, we often see the US involvement in the drug war to be erased. The US tends to throw their hands up as if nothing is their fault, when in reality, US policies have created a lot of the conditions that have led to violence at the borders and influxes of immigrants. In your experience, having an inside look into the Colombian perspective, how does that story change when you get outside of the US?

 

Priscila Garcia-Jacquier   (4:59) 

So, that's an excellent question, and is something that I, that I experienced even with this election, right? I have dual citizenship in the States and in Colombia. And voting for me is a really conflicting process, right? You might vote for something that might totally behoove your life here in the States, that will probably have a totally destabilizing effect on your home country. And carrying the duality of that is carrying the reality of the impact of, you know, the American Empire, in a, in a lot of ways. And I think that that is it, the drug trade and its devastating effects wouldn't be as colossal as they are, if it weren't for the Clinton administration, right? If it weren't for Biden, or all these things I think we don't talk about. And it's that I think, you know, I think as an immigrant, we often see like Latin America as like, these foolish, corrupt countries that are just sort of this rodeo of the Wild West or something, you know, these failed democracies, without talking about the fact that this is an entire continent that has been historically destabilized by the US. And that the reason that we don't have clear dichotomies is because of the US. And that's crystal clear, I think for every Colombian alive.

 

Alexis Martin  (6:32)  

You've also written about your own personal experiences with drugs, and other substances, and how using substances can be really tied into cultural identity and gender identity as well. What stereotypes did you see applied to the cultures you identify with? And what stereotypes do you see in the US writ large around that?

 

Priscila Garcia-Jacquier  (6:54)  

Yeah, this is really, it's such a deep question. Not to make that sound trite, but it is I think the lay-- peeling back these layers is so nuanced. When I first got sober, right, you sort of, sort of have to take a look at how you got there. I mean, that's, that's the entire part of sobriety is just like a one big look at how you got to where you are. And realizing that actually, it's not only stereotypes about Colombia that perpetuated my active addiction, but it is the stereotype upheld by my own Colombian upbringing, that really, that really sort of perpetuated my addiction. So how this ties back to like narco trafficking, I will be curious to find out, but it is something about, you know, I grew up with two very robust cultures. And both of them have this sort of, we romanticize them the world over, right, like the French, the French side of me, it's like, I've barely met anyone who doesn't have a vision board with an Eiffel tower on it, you know what I mean, like, it's just everyone loves France. Everyone has hoped for France, like everyone daydreams about France. And there's a certain like, personhood that comes with that imagination, as there is a certain kind of personhood that comes with the imagining of what it is to be a Colombian person. And I think that growing up in a household that was representative of this country, in one way or another, I was really taught to uphold certain imagery. And that imagery is -- any sort of performance for someone else is always going to keep us sort of sick, right? So I think, the stereotypes about what it meant to be like a good Colombian woman and like, to be vivacious and to be like, you know, to be all of those things. And then to be this like mysterious French girl with this joie de vivre, I think all of those performances really kept me sick for a very long time, as do most performances, and then I think migrating to the states and realizing tenfold how much more amplified that stereotype becomes here, right? Like I really hid for a long time behind the, the performance of like, being a spicy Latina, who was like bringing life to the party at all times. And playing into the mystery of what it meant to be French and Colombian [inaudible] stereotypes affected me or didn't affect me. So I think stereotypes of any kind affect your performance, and performance of any kind keeps us ill.

 

Alexis Martin  (9:28)  

So you kind of touched on this a little bit, but I'm wondering how you see those tropes connecting to drug policy here, particularly the ways in which US drug policy influences drug policy in every other country and how it also interacts with stigma. And do you think that people are aware of these connections?

 

Priscila Garcia-Jacquier  (9:54)  

I'm going to answer the last I do not think that people are aware of these conventions. I do not think that we think about how much -- how much the US impacts the world, and how much media impacts the world. I don't think that we're aware of, like, the responsibility of both of those aspects. And so in terms of tropes, right, it's like, it's so fascinating. It's so fascinating because the drug trade is capitalism at its finest. Right? It is, it behooves everyone involved in the drug trade to keep drugs illegal, right? Like that's what it depends on. And I think like any good business, like any real good capitalistic business, there are the heroes of the story, and then there are those who simply failed to be heroes of the story. It's not just like the people who failed to -- it's not just the people who are negatively impacted by the story. It's not the people who are like, violently afflicted by the story. It's like, you know, the, the stereotype that we have around black folks in this country in relation to crack cocaine and cocaine, those people in this capitalistic history that we -- this capitalistic narrative that is building out, they have failed at the story, they're not, like, I'm thinking about -- I just want to be very clear in the way I'm saying this. It's like, it's like when really good stories are built, we seldom, like built around capitalism. We seldom think of victims, we only think about, these are the people for whom this story worked for. And this is everyone else who couldn't get get it together enough for it to work for. And so I think that that's often the way that this plays out. It's not, like I've never seen like, I don't know, I think, I think it just it's romanticized. And the way that we romanticize it. We don't talk enough about the reverberations of this, of this business, and the involvement of the US in it. Like we don't, we just don't talk about the bigger picture ever. We just like, stay at the rodeo, you know, we like stay at the rodeo. And then because we always want to paint the US as like the saving force of anything. That's what we end up painting, painting it as. So like, Colombia gets painted as the Wild West. And then the US gets painted as a thing that's like saving us from the Wild West.

 

Jeannette Zanipatin  (12:28)  

Right. And you've talked a lot about this whole idea around rever -- reverberations, and how that sort of plays out. A lot of what we've talked about here revolves around reductive storytelling, when things get turned into black and white, right or wrong, kinds of stories with no real gray area. What nuance do you think is missing most from our pop culture of drug use and drug -- and the drug trade, that could perhaps help change policy for the better?

 

Priscila Garcia-Jacquier  (12:58)  

I think we don't understand the ways in which people are forced into the drug trade. Like we don't talk about why people need to go into the drug trade. We have like a romanticized notion of that. We think okay, yeah, if, you know, I'm thinking about the ways that certain black communities are portrayed on the media, like we talk about, okay, so they live in a marginalized community. And thus, like, of course, like, selling drugs is the way that they are going to survive that. So we sort of understand that. But we don't ever look at the macro. Like, we don't look at the way that 80% of the land in Colombia -- Colombia is really like a country of land wars. Like it's still sort of, it's an old way of fighting over something. It's -- these are old wars, it's over land, that 80% of the country be owned by the 1%. That's what this really is about. Right. And so we we don't look at that macro picture, we don't look at the way that, that the fact that that statistic is true means that masses, masses, masses of people are destabilized, demobilized. We don't talk about how they're -- because of the of the illegality of cocaine, it doesn't behoove farmers to farm other possible crops in Colombia, but like cocaine remains, to this day, the most prolific and the one that will make them the most money, right? Like we don't talk about the macros. And that's the nuance always. It's like we don't talk about how the drug trade is an indigenous sovereignty issue. We don't talk about the way that the country is segregated and thus the way that that perpetuates the war and the violence like we don't talk about any of those things. It just becomes this, these like fights between all these white men, to be honest, just becomes like the the prolific white men of Colombia are fighting the prolific white men of the states, and that's where we leave it and it's so hurtful.

 

Alexis Martin  (14:57)  

I really loved how you talked about building stories. Because I think there's kind of an interesting parallel in sort of the policy world where you do have to sort of build this story. And in building a new story, you can free people from other stories. And so as a writer, we're curious, are there stories around this that you are, that you are planning to build?

 

Priscila Garcia-Jacquier  (15:24)  

Yes, I have to admit this, I'm obsessed with the drug trade. Like I it's all I think about, I just, I will read any book that I can get my hands on, I will talk about policy to anyone who's willing to sit down and talk to me about policy, like, because, because for countries so shaped by the drug trade, whenever I read about it, it feels more like I'm doing 23andme than just like reading about history, you know? I can sort of see the ripple effects, I can see, oh, my God, okay, this event, at this time, has this impact on my direct life, this affected the way that we migrated, this affected this month, this period, this moment of our lives. And I think that all my stories end up being about Colombian-Americans who have immigrated to the States. All of them, every single one of them. And all of them are about like -- colorful, right? -- colorful, vivacious people who are living full lives in the States, who are living real full human lives in the States. But they are inherently about the drug trade. Like all those stories are inherently about the drug trade, because that these stories are, that these histories, that these lives are being shaped the way they are, is in direct resistance to the drug trade. And that, I think, is actually what we need more about, or more of, I think we talked about, we don't only want stories about narcos, we don't only want whatever, but it's like, right, but we've had a civil war of 60 years, like, all of our stories are going to center this story somehow. And we need to allow for the breadth and width of that. 

 

Jeannette Zanipatin  (17:13)  

You know, Priscila, there's so much of what you're just speaking to right now that I can really identify with, I have a lot of friends that are from Colombia, and I find that they, you know, really do speak to what you're saying right now, because it really has impacted a lot of, a lot of facets of their lives. And now I my family's from South America. So I could definitely identify with what you're saying. But we you know, just really wanted to thank you for speaking with us today. And just wondered if you have any last, any last thoughts for our listeners?

 

Priscila Garcia-Jacquier  (17:47)  

Well, yeah, I do wonder, I have a question for you, who are in this space. I wonder like, what, what is the most surprising thing you hear from your listeners? Like, what surprises you all the most about the reflections that people have about your work?

 

Jeannette Zanipatin  (18:05)  

Yeah, I think when we talk to folks about the work that we do, they're surprised to know that there's actually, you know, some science and evidence and some thought that goes into the policy development. I think what surprises me the most is knowing that we do have policy issues that can be backed up with exactly, you know, data science evidence, and that folks are still really reluctant to understand or accept the policy, because they have such a visceral reaction to drugs and the drug war, right, and don't really understand sort of all those nuances and aren't able to connect the dots sometimes. And so that, that, to me, is what takes me aback. But I think once I'm able to sort of provide folks with, you know, that information and help connect those dots, then, you know, we do see folks more open to at least accepting some of the policies that we try to move forward.

 

Priscila Garcia-Jacquier  (19:10)  

Do you think that people understand the magnitude and the importance of, um, the, the huge impact of the war on drugs?

 

Jeannette Zanipatin  (19:20)  

I don't, and I you know, and I have, like I said, I have family members from Latin America. So we always talk about politics, you know, at the dinner table, and, you know, they know some of it, but they don't know all of it. And I just feel like a lot of folks don't really know, the magnitude and the breadth. And I think it's not until, you know, you start drilling down into the numbers and you see the impacts and the effects that it's had on communities of color, on indigenous communities. I mean, even in California, you know, within 50 years, our prison population obviously has shifted from, you know, once overly represented by white folks to what we have now, which is, you know, overrepresentation of Black, Latin and indigenous folks. 

 

Alexis Martin  (20:12)  

Yeah. Similarly, or, I would agree with a lot of what Jeannette said, I come from a family who has dealt with a lot of addiction, a lot of sort of drug use and overdose. And in the time that I've worked at DPA, it's been -- it's really opened up the conversation about, about both how expansive the war on drugs is, and that there are, like you said, Jeannette, these evidence-based solutions, and basically just sort of introducing the question, the questioning of the current system as it exists, just just a simple question: do you really think that putting people in jails and prisons for drugs works? And just letting folks sit with that question, and really think about it. And so often, even amongst my most conservative family members, I've been able to get some movement based on our own experience, which is really on the sort of micro, US-centric level. And then building out, I think it's been really illuminating for me personally, to understand the global ramifications of US drug policy, and how something like, for example, decriminalizing drugs here can disrupt other supply chains and and just sort of retool things, but also without, without sort of completely centering the US, but understanding how the US's sort of long arms stretch out so far, and so deep. 

 

Priscila Garcia-Jacquier  (22:08)  

Right. That's really, that's really important. I think that realizing like the globality of the war on drugs, is becoming more and more important to me. Right, that it's not just a reform, [inaudible].

 

Alexis Martin  (22:24)  

And I think it's important for us when we're examining our policy issues -- and I think we do, but there's always room to do more -- to really think not just how can this affect folks within the US, but what are the global ramifications of these policy proposals? Are there? If not, should there be? Or if there are, are they the right ones? I think it's questions as on our side of the virtual table, we have to be asking ourselves.

 

Priscila Garcia-Jacquier  (22:56)  

You know, these are such -- yeah, I think about this, because I think about the, we talk about the way that we can redistribute resources back to the community, as opposed to, as opposed to systems in place now, in terms of the war on drugs. And I also, but I think about that, in terms of like, military bases, or the Coast Guard, right, like the, all that money that could be funneled into communities instead of giant ships in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. 

 

Jeannette Zanipatin  (23:27)  

Right. I mean, I think a lot of that is just, you know, we're, we're seeing some of those conversations more at the local level with, you know, reimagining policing, or defunding the police in terms of reinvesting those resources at the local level. I know, places like Mexico has actually been looking at this whole issue of reparations. And, you know, trying to take a different approach, at least, you know, toying with the idea of taking a different approach with the drug war, but they're also looking at more broader policy issues around decriminalization as well. But then I'm also, it also makes me think a little bit about sort of what happened in in Bolivia with the election of Evo Morales, and one of the first things he did was to kick out the DEA, right, he didn't want to have the US continually involved in the drug war there. But then we saw the destabilization of Bolivia to some extent as well during his presidency. So it's just really curious how some of these things manifest itself in different ways. And, you know, in a place like Bolivia, who tried to, you know, write a counter narrative to the drug war ended up, you know, destabilizing itself on a, on a, on a certain level, right. It's just destabilizing part of its economy and its country. So it's just really interesting how this all plays out, has played out.

 

Priscila Garcia-Jacquier  (25:02)  

So important. I really appreciate your work.

 

Jeannette Zanipatin  (25:06)  

Well, we appreciate your work. It's been amazing to have this conversation with you.

 

Alexis Martin  (25:11)  

Yeah, absolutely. And where where can folks keep up with your work?

 

Priscila Garcia-Jacquier  (25:18)  

Oh God, you can find me on Instagram. I, unfortunately, I'm always there. My handle is just my name, Priscila Garcia-Jacquier. And otherwise, stay tuned for Blindspotting on Starz, coming at a TV near you in 2021.

 

Jeannette Zanipatin  (25:38)  

That's awesome. We can't wait for that. Thank you so much, Priscila.

 

Priscila Garcia-Jacquier  (25:41)  

Thank you all so much.

 

Alexis Martin  (25:43)

Thank you.

 

Gabriella Miyares  (25:51)  

Thanks again to Jeanette, Alexis, and Priscila for such a fascinating and important conversation. We've put links in the episode description to help you keep up with Priscila's work. Do you have ideas for other subjects you'd like us to dig into? We'd love to hear from you. Tweet us @drugsnstuffDPA. And don't forget to tell others about our podcast. Hope everyone listening stay safe and well. We appreciate you.

 

Outro  (26:22)  

Drugs and Stuff is brought to you by the Drug Policy Alliance. If you like what you hear in the podcast, do us a favor and rate the show on iTunes. Give it five stars and a nice review. Also, we'd love to hear from you. Tweet at us @drugsnstuffDPA. Use the hashtag #drugsandstuff, and check out our website drugpolicy.org to see the other work we do, sign up for our emails, and donate. Special thanks to our producer Katharine Heller and to the hard working staff of the Drug Policy Alliance for all of their work. Thanks for listening.

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