In the 1970s, cocaine was king. And the queen was Griselda Blanco. Griselda Blanco’s story spans decades, and her actions affected millions, so it was always likely her story would be told. 2024 kicked off with Sofia Vergara starring as Griselda in a new, engrossing limited series from Netflix. The typically comedic actress takes on a whole new track with such a dramatic role and showcases her immense talent as the ruthless crime boss. The Griselda miniseries follows the story of Griselda Blanco and her one-woman cocaine drug trade.
Griselda is a six-episode series that premiered on January 25, 2024 and has already captured audiences’ attention around the world, debuting at number one in 89 countries and topping Netflix’s Global Weekly Top 10 TV. But who is the woman the series is about, and what makes her story so intriguing? Let’s look at her life and why it is worth watching.
Update February 9, 2024: This article has been updated following the release of Griselda, as well as details regarding the lawsuit by the Griselda family.
- Release Date
- January 25, 2024
The Origins of the Cocaine Godmother
Griselda was born in 1943 and quickly found her way into the criminal underground in Colombia. Rumors spread about this young woman who, in her teens, was already committing crimes that rivaled those of her older counterparts. When she was 23, she illegally immigrated to New York, where she began establishing a cocaine business that grew at a rapid pace. She was soon the top dog, and as her operation grew, she found herself in the crosshairs of law enforcement.
In 1975, she and her organization were charged with a multitude of crimes. Before they could arrest her, Griselda skipped town and the country, returning to Colombia, where she could not be found. It was the first in a long line of near-misses. When she returned to the United States in 1979, she decided to stay in Miami, an area with a growing South American population (both legal and illegal). It was also a place where drugs were flowing through, and various cartels were fighting for dominance. Griselda became well-known to those both in the trade and once again with law enforcement.
Griselda was known for her ruthlessness and her penchant for putting hits out on nearly anyone who got in her way. This even applied to two of her four husbands. Often, she employed men to ride in a drive-by fashion on motorcycles, shooting individuals as they exited their homes or places of business. It was at this time she earned two nicknames, “Black Widow” and “Cocaine Godmother.” This second moniker came about because hers was one of three organizations bringing in over $75 million per month from cocaine alone.
When she was finally caught in 1985, the DEA threw the book at her. She was charged with all possible drug-related crimes and was sentenced to prison. She spent much of her life there, being brought up on additional charges, including at least three murders. She only got out of prison in 2004, at which time she was deported back to Columbia.
In 2012, she was murdered in her hometown at age 69, having been gunned down by men on motorcycles in a violent act that mimicked her own specific assassination style.
When Cocaine Was King
In the 1970s, there was no drug more lucrative than cocaine. And there was no place churning it out more than Colombia. The Colombian drug trade was making so much money that it was stored in guarded warehouses that were nearly as secure as where they kept the drugs themselves. One of the hardest parts of selling cocaine was getting it into the United States, which was using more of it than anywhere else in the world. But strict borders, massive prison sentences, and growing concerns at the local and national level made for a very difficult process.
However, if one had the right connections and enough product, the sky was the limit. And in the 1970s, Griselda Blanco was at the top of the cocaine trade. At the height of her reign and power, Blanco earned a reported $80 million a month due to her vast distribution network that covered Colombia all across the United States. She was able to be active for decades and remained an evasive and dangerous individual until the day she died, and was a prominent and dangerous player in the Miami Drug War.
Despite her incarceration, the legacy of Blanco was heavily felt in the ensuing decades and her tactics and tenacity was admired by those who followed in her footsteps. It’s no wonder the enthralling crime drama opens with a telling quote by the infamous Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar: “The only man I was ever afraid of was a woman named Griselda Blanco.”
Vergara Becomes Griselda
The new Netflix miniseries follows the complex life of Griselda Blanco from her drug world takeover to her inevitable imprisonment and tracks both Griselda and the law enforcement officers who attempted to learn about her organization and hunt her down. The pulse-pounding series heavily focuses on her daring escape from Colombia to Miami along with her three sons and chronicles the queenpin’s meticulously planned takeover of the drug trafficking scene while depicting her brutal and disarming interactions with her fellow distributor rivals.
Griselda goes toe-to-toe with some of the time period’s most notorious and power-hungry drug dealers, all the while being pursued by the steadfast DEA, who want to see her reign of terror come to an end. The Cocaine Godmother helped establish smuggling routes that were later utilized by the Medellín cartel, who took over her territory after she was eventually apprehended in 1985.
Vergara brilliantly pulled off the role of the deadly drug dealer, and it truly helped bring a new level of gravitas to her work. She had been creating a single character for Modern Family for years, and her other work has been largely comedic or as secondary characters in semi-dramatic movies (see 2004’s Four Brothers). The gritty and edgy role of Griselda really allowed Vergara to sink her teeth into the complex character and showcase her fantastic acting prowess and proved to fans she was far more than a pretty face with great comedic timing.
Behind the Scenes Controversy
On January 17, one week before Griselda premiered on Netflix, members of Griselda Blanco’s family filed a lawsuit against Sofia Vergera and co-creator Eric Newman for the unauthorized use of likenesses on the series. In the lawsuit, Blanco’s son Michael is seeking damages “in excess of $50,000” and reportedly claims he had been participating in interviews between 2009 and 2022 with someone who was trying to develop his and his mother’s life story into a book or series that was shopped around to various networks and streaming platforms. He claims Netflix reportedly expressed interest in but did not want to use his interviews and passed, but alleged that Netflix leaned on his material, and he was never compensated.
Griselda co-creator and executive producer Eric Newman, who also produced Narcos for Netflix, responded to the lawsuit saying in an interview with Today he said:
“I dealt with similar suits from Pablo Escobar, his family, during the making of
. I tend not to think much about them. It just feels a little bit unsurprising and kind of comes with the territory.”
The lawsuit also tried to halt the release of the series, but it still aired on Netflix as planned.
A Smash Hit Miniseries
In Griselda, Vergara serves up a career-defining performance and allows herself to completely disappear into the persona of the deceptively charming drug trafficker, who will stop at nothing to achieve her lofty dreams and will take down anyone who dares stand in her way. The sensational actress wanted to show audiences the true origins and complexities of the power-hungry drug lord, revealing in press notes:
“So we were very careful not to glorify her in the series. But we also wanted to take time to uncover the deeper story of Griselda, how beyond all odds, a poor, uneducated woman from Colombia managed to create a massive, multi-billion dollar empire in a male-dominated industry, in a country that was not her own, through tactics that she devised that were both ingenious and cruel.”
During its highly-anticipated premiere week, Griselda debuted at number one in a whopping 89 countries across the world, and within just three days of its release, the crime miniseries attracted 20.6 million viewers while raking up 113.8 million hours viewed. Both audiences and critics are calling Vergara’s captivating portrayal her very best yet, with IndieWire noting that her riveting delivery “casts a sharp light on how she has been underutilized in her career, and just how long a shadow she can cast with production power and a team that knows and pushes her potential.”
Griselda has proven to be the first smash-hit series of 2024, and if the momentum can hold, Vergera might find her way to winning an Emmy for her portrayal. It also puts a spotlight on a famous criminal figure that many audiences might not know much about but likely will want to learn more about.
Griselda is available for streaming on Netflix.