Catherine Zeta-Jones Portrays 'Cocaine Godmother' In New Movie

By Paul Gaita 01/23/18

The film details the ruthless manner in which drug lord Griselda Blanco wielded power over her cocaine empire.

Catherine Zeta-Jones
Photo via YouTube

The notorious cocaine trafficker Griselda Blanco, who ruled a multimillion-dollar narcotics ring in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s, is the subject of a new made-for-television biopic for the Lifetime network.

Oscar-winning Welsh actress Catherine Zeta-Jones plays the so-called "Black Widow" in Cocaine Godmother: The Griselda Blanco Story, which debuted on January 20. The drama follows Blanco's rise from poverty in Colombia to one of the Medellín Cartel's most powerful and feared narcotics traffickers in the United States.

The film—directed by Oscar-winning cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (Pan's Labyrinth)—details the ruthless manner in which she wielded power over her coast-to-coast empire, which included the use of children and the elderly as drug mules, and murder as a means of culling her enemies.

Blanco, whose life was previously detailed in the 2006 documentary Cocaine Cowboys, began a life of crime as a pre-teen in Colombia, picking pockets and working as a sex worker before moving to New York in the early 1970s.

There, she became involved with members of the Medellín Cartel—the infamous Colombian drug-trafficking operation co-founded by Pablo Escobar— and became one of its largest and most profitable representatives in the United States. Her narcotics ring was briefly halted in 1975 when the DEA intercepted a massive shipment of cocaine, spurring Blanco to return to Colombia. 

But she returned to the States at the end of the decade, settling in Miami and launching an even more powerful operation there. Her trafficking network, which spread from Florida to Southern California, drew in millions per month and maintained its position in the volatile Miami drug scene through her willingness to executive rivals through drive-by shootings and other open-air crimes, a reputation which earned her a variety of ominous sobriquets, including the "Black Widow" and "la Madrina" (the Godmother).

But Blanco's penchant for violence also contributed to her downfall; the high level of major crimes committed during what authorities and the media dubbed the "Miami Drug War" led to increased attention by both the Miami-Dade Police Department and the DEA—and it was the latter that arrested Blanco in her home in Irvine, California in 1985.

Convicted of conspiracy to manufacture, import and distribute cocaine, she was sentenced to 15 years, and received an additional 10 years for three murder charges in Miami in 1994. By 2004, Blanco had been released and deported back to Colombia, where she was murdered by gunmen on motorcycles in 2012. 

Like many of her drug lord contemporaries, Blanco's infamy has granted her legendary status in popular culture, with tributes from hip-hop artists like Migos' Quavo and Lil Kim, and even a comic retelling of her crimes on the Comedy Central series Drunk History. Biopics based on her life, including one starring Jennifer Lopez, have been announced, but Cocaine Godmother is the first to complete production. 

For Zeta-Jones, the project is the culmination of a long-standing fascination with Blanco, which began three-and-a-half years ago with a screening of Cocaine Cowboys.

"This woman got under my skin," she told E! News. "I knew she would be so fantastic to play. I mean, morally, everything this woman did and stood for is so the polar opposite of what I believe in and who I am. And of course, this wouldn't necessarily have my name written all over it… and that's what made it so amazing."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.