Facebook has funded a documentary series on the rise — and hard fall — of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, the notorious Mexican drug kingpin who now faces life in prison.
The five-episode “USA v. Chapo: The Drug War Goes on Trial” comes from Rolling Stone and Jigsaw Productions. The docu-series promises an in-depth, first-hand look at El Chapo’s takedown after years of eluding authorities, including what’s touted as a behind-the-scenes look at how Rolling Stone and Sean Penn came together to publish the actor’s controversial interview with El Chapo in January 2016. [Disclosure: Rolling Stone is owned by Penske Media Corp., the parent company of Variety.]
On Feb. 12, a U.S. federal jury in New York delivered 10 guilty verdicts against El Chapo for masterminding the decades-long rise of the Sinaloa drug cartel. “USA v. Chapo: The Drug War Goes on Trial” follows the drug lord’s story from the early ‘90s to the recent trial and features exclusive interviews with the DEA agents who tracked him down; El Chapo’s defense attorneys in Mexico and the U.S.; former President of Mexico Felipe Calderón; Rolling Stone editor Jason Fine; and investigative journalists who have reported on the drug war.
Penn’s role in El Chapo’s recapture three years ago in Mexico, which led to his extradition to the U.S. to face criminal charges, has been subject to dispute. In a Netflix documentary released in 2017, actress Kate del Castillo suggested that Penn alerted U.S. authorities to El Chapo’s whereabouts after she arranged a meeting for the two in September 2015. Penn has denied the allegation.
“Since the publication of ‘El Chapo Speaks’ in Rolling Stone in early 2016, the saga of El Chapo has continued to evolve and capture the attention of a huge audience,” Rolling Stone president Gus Wenner said in a statement. “We’re thrilled to be partnering with Jigsaw Productions to bring this amazing story to life in a new way on Facebook Watch.”
Bernardo Ruiz, director of “USA v. Chapo: The Drug War Goes on Trial,” said the series focuses as much on the political and economic context that gave rise to El Chapo as it does on the man himself. “[W]hile many outlets have further inflated the Chapo myth, we interrogate that myth, asking if the focus on one person has served to distract from the more serious problems of the drug war,” Ruiz commented.
For Facebook, it’s the latest addition to the social giant’s lineup of Watch originals, designed to boost time spent viewing video (and video ads). This week, “Will Smith’s Bucket List,” with the actor engaging in different stunts around the world, debuted on Facebook Watch. Facebook also announced “Human Discoveries,” an animated comedy starring Anna Kendrick and Zac Efron, scheduled to debut later in 2019, and is bringing out reboots of MTV’s “The Real World” this spring (along with three fan-voted past seasons of the reality TV show).
“USA v. Chapo: The Drug War Goes on Trial” is produced by Kara Elverson and executive produced by Gus Wenner, Jason Fine, Stacey Offman and Richard Perello.
Rolling Stone, founded in 1967, claims to reach a unique monthly audience of some 60 million. PMC acquired a controlling interest in Wenner Media, parent company of Rolling Stone, in December 2017 and then purchased the remaining 49% stake this January.