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Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer, diner scene in "Scarface"

Scarface and the Glamorization of Narco Culture: A Latino Perspective

In the history of American cinema, few movies have achieved the iconic status and enduring cultural impact that "Scarface” has.

Directed by Brian De Palma and released in 1983, the film depicts the rise and fall of Tony Montana, a Cuban immigrant turned ruthless drug lord in Miami. Over the years, Scarface has garnered a cult following and become synonymous with the glamorization of narco culture. However, within the Latino community, opinions are divided and complex regarding the film's portrayal and the broader issue of glamorizing narco culture.

The Glorification of Narco Culture

Scarface and other cinematic works have often been criticized for glamorizing narco culture, romanticizing the lifestyles of drug kingpins and perpetuating stereotypes. In fact, 64% of Latino characters in popular films between 2007 and 2013 were depicted as criminals or associated with drug-related activities (USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism).

Furthermore, Scarface itself has been cited as a prime example of this glamorization. The film showcases Tony Montana's opulent mansion, flashy cars, and excessive wealth, enticing audiences with the allure of power and luxury associated with a life of crime. This portrayal, while undeniably captivating, raises concerns about the potential impact on perceptions of Latino individuals and their communities.

According to renowned film critic Carlos Aguilar, "Scarface's enduring popularity among some Latinos is troubling, as it perpetuates harmful stereotypes and presents a skewed view of success and identity." Aguilar's critique echoes a sentiment among many Latinos who believe that the glamorization of narco culture in films like Scarface undermines the community's progress and reinforces negative stereotypes.

Latino and Colombian Perspectives on the Narco Culture

Opinions within the Latino community regarding Scarface and its portrayal of narco culture are conflicting. While some individuals view the film as a cautionary tale that exposes the dark underbelly of drug trafficking, others appreciate the film as a cultural touchstone or even find inspiration in Tony Montana's rags-to-riches story.

Arturo Cortez, a Colombian-American activist, explains, "Scarface is a complex film that reflects the realities faced by many Latino immigrants who came to the United States seeking a better life. While it may glamorize certain aspects, it also sheds light on the harsh consequences of criminal activities."

However, many Latinos express concerns about the unintended consequences of Scarface's portrayal. They argue that the film's focus on the criminal lifestyle overshadows the broader contributions and successes of Latino communities, reinforcing stereotypes that can lead to discrimination and misunderstanding. Take for instance, the former President of the United States, Donald Trump, who made this remark during his presidential campaign announcement speech in 2015. "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best... They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists." 

Beyond the Presidency, U.S. Representatives and State leaders often contribute to misleading concepts that can deter the progress of integration and cultural assimilation. "Our cities are getting more dangerous by the day. The majority of violent crimes are being committed by illegal immigrants." - Louie Gohmert, U.S. Representative from Texas (from a statement in 2014).

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Diego Luna in his role as Miguel Ángel Felix Gallardo, alongside Fernanda Urrejola who played his wife, in the popular Netflix series

Seeking a Balanced Narrative

Amidst the debate surrounding Scarface and the glamorization of narco culture, there is a growing call within the Latino community for more nuanced and diverse representations in mainstream media. Latinx filmmakers and artists are taking on the challenge, seeking to counterbalance one-dimensional narratives by telling stories that reflect the richness and complexity of their experiences.

The critically acclaimed TV series "Narcos," which explores the rise and fall of real-life drug kingpins in Latin America, has been praised for its compelling storytelling and balanced portrayal. While critics claim that stereotypes were perpetuated through the development of the series, it does an excellent job delving into the social and political factors driving the drug trade while humanizing both the perpetrators and the victims.

As noted by Mexican actor and director Diego Luna, who played the role of drug trafficker Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, founder of the Guadalajara Cartel, "We need to move beyond the stereotypes and tell stories that highlight the diversity, resilience, and contributions of Latino communities. It's crucial to challenge the narratives that perpetuate harm and showcase the multifaceted nature of our experiences."

While some of us may find Scarface and narco cinema compelling, others are concerned about the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes. As conversations surrounding representation and diversity continue to evolve, it becomes apparent that we must seek a more nuanced narrative that accurately reflects the experiences and aspirations of Latino communities while acknowledging the impact of glamorizing narco culture in popular media. By doing so, we can move towards a more inclusive cinematic landscape that celebrates the diversity and richness of the Latino culture.

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