Fact or fiction: Agents dispel myths from popular Netflix show

By Tinu Thomas

The two real-life DEA agents who inspired the Netflix series “Narcos” recently told UT students that Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar “was no Robin Hood.”

“About a third of the show is actually true,” Steve Murphy said Sept. 7 at an event hosted by the Campus Events and Entertainment Distinguished Speakers Committee. “The second third, well, the events happened, but not quite the way it’s depicted in the show. That last third was just straight up make-believe.”

Poster for Netflix program “Narcos.”

“Narcos” is based on the life and capture of Pablo Escobar, the infamous Colombian drug lord. Days after the release of the third season of the show, Murphy and fellow DEA agent Javier Peña spoke to a packed Hogg Auditorium about the differences between the show and their first-hand experiences in Colombia. The officers said they felt Escobar’s “robin hood-esque” portrayal was exaggerated in the series. They also said many in Colombia still see Escobar in this light.

“Pablo was paying a lot of people, building homes for the poor, building churches,” Peña said. “They call him a ‘robin hood.’ We will dispel that myth. How can one man become so powerful that he declared war on his own country?”

To demonstrate the reality of Escobar’s brutality, the officers showed crime scene pictures and evidence they collected over the span of their investigation. The graphic images surprised some students whose perception of Escobar was based on the show. Emma Gardephe, a senior biology major who attended the event, said she was glad the officers took the time to clarify details regarding the show and real life.

“By talking to Peña and Murphy, we were able to really get down to the nitty-gritty aspects,” Gardephe said. “I think that in any show you are watching that is based on a true story, it’s really necessary to make sure you are getting the real facts.”

The officers said the Netflix series also perpetuated the myth that they were solely responsible for capturing Escobar. Peña said the capture was not possible without the efforts of the Colombian police.

“By no means were they trying to be the sole heroes of the story, and I think that was a really respectful thing to do,” Gardephe said.

Kimberlee Walters, chair of the Campus Events and Entertainment Distinguished Speakers Committee, said students enjoyed the event because they were able to learn about a historical event from a first-hand account.

“It gives a direct point of view from people who were working on this mission to take out the whole drug situation that was happening in Colombia at that time,” Walters said. “They could actually make parallels between what happened on the show and what happened in real life.”

Murphy and Peña made a point to recognize that although the show did exaggerate certain events, it did accurately portray the terrorizing atmosphere Escobar created in Colombia.

“We know he knew who we were,” Peña said. “The bounty on each of us was $300,000.”

Murphy added they were in constant fear throughout the investigation.

“We used to drive with our guns by our chest because of Pablo Escobar’s sicarios,” Murphy said about the cartel hitmen.

Despite the fear and brutality they experienced during Escobar’s reign in Colombia, the officers reminded students to stay light-hearted, even in the face of a dark subject.

“We’re loving the fact that you guys are laughing and having fun because this is a dark topic,” Murphy said. “We’re starting with a dead man on the screen, but we’re gonna try to have some fun tonight, it’s OK to laugh, it’s OK to hoot and holler.”

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