‘Queen Of The South’ – A Female-Driven Show Portraying The Drug Cartel Through The Female Gaze

The USA Network’s ‘Queen Of The South’ series has returned to TV screens for its second season, and it is a show that is worth talking about far beyond its story lines. Sure, you could compare it to famous drug or cartel-related shows such as ‘Breaking Bad’ or ‘Narcos’, but what QOTS offers that the aforementioned doesn’t is a distinctive look into the drug cartel world from a female gaze.

Oh, and it’s a female gaze both behind and in front of the the camera. The show stars Alice Braga as the lead character Teresa Mendoza, and is based on Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s book by the same which became a popular telenovela series starring Mexican American actress Kate del Castillo. It is the second most expensive telenovela ever produced by Telemundo and became so popular that an American version was soon being made.

‘Queen of the South’ follows Teresa Mendoza who becomes the leader of the biggest drug empire in the western hemisphere, after her boyfriend is murdered in Mexico forcing her to go on the run. Like the real-life story of Pablo Escobar and the Medellin cartel portrayed in Netflix’s ‘Narcos’, QOTS is also based on a true story.

Having a major TV series lead by a woman, and a Latina, is BFD, and it seems the female-driven aspect of the show is something the producers are doubling down on. Season 2 is being helmed by a female showrunner, Los Angeles native Natalie Chaidez, who’s of Mexican and Irish descent.

This announcement becomes all the more significant when you learn that a Variety investigation into new scripted shows for the 2016-17 season reveals that 90% of showrunners are white, and almost 80% are male.

The show has been quietly building on its female empowerment since its debut, and is now getting the recognition it deserves. Executive producer David Friendly spoke with Manuel Betancourt from Remezcla, and emphasized why season 2 is going to take the series to the next level.

“It’s a Latina showrunner on a show about female empowerment, so that felt organic and consistent. She’s a creative force of nature and really took control of the show…As the executive producer from New York, I’m the token Caucasian, and very proud of it! I think they really helped us find our voice,” he said.

The writing team, which is essential to identifying the overall voice of any show, is diverse. It includes Tina Mabry (‘Queen Sugar’), and Cuban-American Dailyn Rodriguez.

Alice Braga also spoke about how important it was having a Latina showrunner steering this show.

“It changed a little bit the tone of the show, because season one was more action-y, more boyish in a way. And season two, because there’s a woman in charge, there’s more an attention to drama, to character development in different ways,” she said.

One of the show’s pivotal characters Camila Vargas, played by actress Veronica Falcón, also weighed in on the implications of having a woman at the helm of season 2.

“We have very few female directors. Very few female showrunners. As an actress it’s always complicated—you’re always expected to play a certain kind of role at a certain age. So you’re always breaking molds and always trying to fight for what’s fair,” she said.

Similar to the way women in Hollywood are often outnumbered in typically male-dominated jobs and roles, the presence of Natalie Chaidez also makes sense because the drug cartel world is also male-dominated.

“I think she’s astounding. She’s a very smart woman. She’s very talented. And she’s someone who understands what it means to be a woman in a man’s world. That makes a huge difference in a project like this,” said Veronica.

When the show first debuted, Alice Braga told Bustle she had read the original book and was excited to play the role of Teresa as opportunities like this aren’t exactly common for women in the industry.

“She is someone that was born and raised in very poor circumstances, then life throws her into this cartel world with her boyfriend. Then, when he gets killed she starts being pursued by the cartel. It’s a very interesting journey. … I think it’s a really beautiful journey of this woman who’s becoming this queen, powerful woman for the cartel world, which is a very male-driven world. So it’s nice to have this female power,” she said.

Different to what we often see about the drug world portrayed from the male gaze, Alice said seeing the cartel through the eyes of a woman brings an angle unlike that of characters such as the on-screen Pablo Escobar.

“What I love about the book — and I hope they honor this in the series — is that she is not an evil character and she never was driven by desire to be rich, but always desired to survive and to be safe. That’s something that I admire a lot about this woman,” she said.

David Friendly’s perspective as a white male, understanding how pivotal a show like this can be, is also important. It is certainly a welcome change from what we are used to seeing and hearing.

“he drug world was traditionally about men…this was story in many ways about female empowerment…To see how [Teresa Mendoza] would be able to survive [in the drug world] was the hook for me,” he said during a Q&A session after a screening in 2016.

At the same event, co-star Joaquim de Almeida expressed how exciting it is to see women with this kind of power, because “it’s new and its different”.

Aside from the empowering aspects of this show for the Latino community and especially Latina women on screen, both the EP and star also emphasize the need to be authentic in their character portrayals as well as the subject matter.

“There’s no question that being a drug lord is dramatic and powerful, and they destroy lives and destroy families… we want to show to be authentic. You will see in various episodes, whether it’s in terms of Teresa’s relationship with [Brenda, portrayed by Justina Machado], with other cast members, with her family, there are serious consequences to this very violent ambiguous world,” said David.

“I think that’s something that all of us should be careful of. … Glamorization of drugs and violence is never a good thing. … It’s about the character and everything you’re showing should be truthful and honest to them and never glamorized,” said Alice.

If you are late to the ‘Queen Of The South’ party, be sure to catch season 2 on USA Network (trailer below), or binge-watch season 1 which is now available on Netflix.

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