Given the ongoing drug wars in Mexico, and partly because of the films’ recent widespread availability online, the last few years have seen a newfound interest in narco movies from English-language media - evidenced in this CNN report as well as articles in the BBC and VICE magazine. For the past forty years, narco movies have been one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the Mexico-US border, often based on narcocorridos from the same area. These movies fall squarely within the exploitation canon: they are made on almost no budget, are characterised by their cheap aesthetics, appeal to the lowest forms of taste, and revel in their lurid subject matter. The attention garnered from mainstream English-language media is in part fueled by the correlated assumptions that popular movies are symptomatic of society at large and that they are the cause of real-world violence. The latter assumption is further emphasized by the fact that in 2011 the Mexican Congress added heavier sanctions to the Federal Penal Code - including, for the first time, significant jail time - for those found guilty of “promoting drug-related crime” in music, film, and advertising.
In reigniting these age-old debates, I believe narcocinema proves to be an interesting case to address the contentious politics of contemporary exploitation films. For instance, governmental attempts to censor the production and circulation of these movies call to mind the elements of moral panics that have always sparked against exploitation films, but how is this backlash complicated when there is a very real sociopotilical crisis at hand? As well, the explosion of YouTube channels and blogs dedicated to cataloguing this expanding corpus of films has recast their consumption in decidedly different ways for international audiences. Vice Magazine may champion narco movies’ complete lack of taste as exotic and cool, but this focus not only obviates their local cultural relevance but also problematically de-politicizes them. Finally, rumors about the financing for these films that comes from traffickers and assertions that filmmakers self-censor to protect themselves further complicate the problematic nature of films’ representations: are these propaganda pictures, like the government claims, or just popular entertainment tapping into an existing cultural milieu?