Monday September 18, 2017

Netflix should have done more to protect Narcos location scout, says journalist who covers cartels

Wagner Moura as drug lord Pablo Escobar, in the Netflix series Narcos. A location scout for the series was murdered while working in Mexico on Sept. 11.

Wagner Moura as drug lord Pablo Escobar, in the Netflix series Narcos. A location scout for the series was murdered while working in Mexico on Sept. 11. (Netflix/Associated Press)

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​The murder of a Netflix location scout in Mexico shows that the company should have done more to protect their employee while he was working in an area known for its drug violence, said a journalist familiar with Mexican drug gangs. 

'Juarez is still dangerous. There is this sense of dread every time you go there.' - Diana Washington Valdez

Carlos Muñoz Portal, 37, was working as a freelancer for the popular series Narcos earlier this month when he was murdered. His body was found in a vehicle, having been shot several times. 

Netflix said in a statement: "We are aware of the passing of Carlos Muñoz Portal, a well-respected location scout, and send our condolences to his family." The company goes on to say the facts of the case are "still unknown".

According to journalist Diana Washington Valdez, who covers drug violence, the murder may have been carried out by a cartel.

Valdez, who is based in El Paso, Texas, has worked with film crews in the past when they have had to navigate the sometimes dangerous realities of working in Mexico. She spoke with As It Happens guest host Helen Mann. Here is part of their conversation. 

How common is it for someone in the film industry to be the target of violence in that area?

It's very unusual. This is the first time I know of someone who operates, among other things, as a fixer for film productions from foreign countries, the United States and other places — someone especially who has been involved in so many high profile films, like Sicario and then this one — because usually these people know the terrain, and they usually know how to go ahead and pave the way, security-wise. I don't know if Mr. Muñoz had not had the time to do that where he was going, but it would seem very risky to go into that kind of terrain controlled by drug cartels and not have some security measures in place ahead of time. For example, we don't even know if he was alone.

You mentioned the film Sicario. And you worked to some degree with the film crews involved in that. What did you do to help secure the crew's safety?

I was not involved in their safety measures, but I do know that they had a lot of security. And even when they did filming in Mexico, they had Mexican law enforcement armed with machine guns escorting the crews. And the Sicario staff also did a lot of filming in New Mexico and in California and in Mexico City in order to reduce their time in Juarez, Mexico.

Carlos Muñoz Portal

Carlos Muñoz Portal (Facebook)

This was 10 episodes that Netflix had been planning on filming in that area. Is it sensible, do you think, for Netflix to be focused on spending so much time in this area?

I'm sure they weren't expecting something like this to happen. Netflix today has not responded as to whether the production has decided to move, to continue, or to end the series. I can say that the Juarez drug cartel is very vicious.

Do you think that Netflix should now consider moving the filming of the series to the United States, for example?

They certainly have that capability and if Sicario could do important film shots in New Mexico, I don't see why not. When I did the interviews for Sicario, I mentioned to them about how Juarez is still dangerous. There is this sense of dread every time you go there. You have to be on the alert. But you can do filming and take shots of the border without incurring the kind of insecurity that you would in Mexico. In Mexico, frankly, nobody is safe.

sicario

Emily Blunt in Sicario as FBI agent Kate Macer. Some scenes in the film were shot in New Mexico, U.S.A. (Richard Foreman, Jr./Lionsgate/Associated Press)

Do you think when you're talking about a company the size of Netflix that they have a responsibility to protect a freelancer like Mr. Muñoz in a situation like this?

Of course they do. They're going to benefit and profit from this production, and they should assure that all their staff is safe. And even the extras they have to consider — so people who live in those communities, why should they be targeted by organized crime simply for assisting with a film?

Knowing what you do about the Juarez cartel, what do you think they make of all this attention?

They don't like people coming into their territories — that's for sure. They don't like people nosing around. A death like this, if it was a deliberate murder on the part of the drug cartel, it would be a message to everyone else. Don't come here. Don't mess with us, even if you're the government. Don't let these people be coming here at all, asking questions about us.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to the full interview with Diana Washington Valdez.