Things to know:
1. Sean Penn is pissed off at Netflix.
2. Kate del Castillo is pissed off at Sean.
3. El Chapo Guzman Loero is a dangerous gent and anyone at whom he is pissed off best be able to keep a low profile because those Sinaloa dudes shoot people a lot.
4. The Mexican government might not always tell the truth about its relationships with drug dealers.
5. Actors aren’t DEA agents. They’re not necessarily investigative reporters, either.
Got it? Sweet.
In The Day I Met El Chapo: The Kate del Castillo Story, Mexican actress Kate del Castillo tells a completely bizarre, telenovela-worthy story. In it, she helps Sean Penn broker a meeting at the top-secret hiding place of then-recently-escaped super-narco Joaquin Guzman, so that Penn can interview El Chapo for Rolling Stone. Along the way, there is enough sex, danger and craziness for a soap opera and then some. Interestingly, 24 hours before Penn’s article goes live, His Shortiness is detained by the feds. There are claims that the tip-off on the fugitive kingpin’s location came from… Sean Penn and Kate del Castillo. And the timing was a little awkward.
Let’s just say the “honeymoon period” ended for these two artistes around that point, and who can blame Kate? (I mean, besides Sean Penn and the DOJ?) This is some crazy, crazy shit. Depending whom you believe, Sean Penn aided in the capture of the most wanted criminal on the planet, or he didn’t, and Kate del Castillo was in love with him, was not in love with him, was used by him, was aiding and abetting him, was in a relationship with El Chapo, was being set up by the government, might be hunted by the cartel, the paparazzi or both…. Ah, it’s complicated, friends. No wonder she wants to tell her side of the story. And if her side of the story sounds a little… defensive? Well, that might be for some kind of a reason, or it might simply be that the woman got fucked over and now she isn’t safe in her own country, and that’s bloody inconvenient.
Here’s what we know:
The Netflix docuseries debuted Friday. It’s interesting stuff. Kate del Castillo comes across as a down-to-earth woman, a little feisty, but in a good way, an independent-minded gal who loves her friends and family and isn’t afraid to use her clout as a star to do something like send a tweet to the head of the Sinaloa drug cartel throwing a gauntlet for him to do something non-murderous and help Mexican people out with the billions he’s made in his weed, coke, meth and heroin empire. “Let’s traffic love,” she wrote (in Spanish) in 2012. “You know how.”
That’s not as weird a thing to say as it might seem. Guzman might be a murdering psychopath, but he is also considered by more than a few people to be a force for good in Mexico, and he is credited by many with giving back to the less-drug-billions-endowed people of Sinaloa, funding infrastructure projects and being a generally helpful sort of guy. (I mean, it’s hard to truck shit-tons of opiates out of a region with terrible roads.) By exhorting him to be “the hero of heroes,” however, she was appealing to the guy’s vanity while also telegraphing distrust of the Mexican government, and I think it’s safe to say it didn’t go unnoticed. I think it is also safe to say that distrust of the Mexican government is not all that incendiary or unusual.
El Chapo was re-arrested, after escaping Puente Grande prison, in Mazatlan in 2014, two years after that tweet. A few months later, his attorney contacted del Castillo to ask if she’d help to produce a biopic about him (I mean, it must have been chapping his hide that there were so many movies about Pablo Escobar). A month after she met with the guy, Chapo busted out of the Stoney Lonesome in a spectacular, utterly belief-beggaring caper involving a mile-long tunnel and a motorcycle. The lawyer texted Kate del Castillo that he was celebrating. She responded that she was, too. I’m sure it was because his escape would make a badass action sequence. Eat your heart out, Steve McQueen! OK, or maybe because it might have complicated the go-ahead on the project.
A couple of months after that, Del Castillo was in direct contact by text with Guzman and he agreed to meet her. She asked to bring along actor Sean Penn, who wanted to write about him for Rolling Stone. Guzman agreed, green-lighting the article, and the unlikely duo were escorted into a secret hideaway in the mountains where some really goddamn weird selfies were taken.
Penn published the article one day after Chapo was captured for the third time, in a raid on his hideout by Mexican Marines.
And then it gets complicated. It turns out the government used Penn and del Castillo to help them locate El Chapo. According to Del Castillo, it was without their knowledge. Rumors start flying: Kate’s having an affair with the drug lord. Illegal money is getting funneled into her tequila company. Del Castillo says Penn’s article contains falsehoods. Penn says del Castillo’s Netflix series could get everyone killed. Texts between El Chapo and del Castillo were leaked to the press and might have been falsified, too, to prove a sexual relationship between the two (she says no, but says she did have one with Penn).
Sooooo… now Sean Penn’s having a cow and claiming Netflix and del Castillo have endangered his life. Netflix and del Castillo maintain that Penn was invited to weigh in on the docuseries multiple times and ignored them. Penn says pull the documentary. Netflix says “Nah.”
Upshot: Watch this docuseries if you want to get at least one side of a really, thoroughly weirder-than-fiction story about a woman who played a soap opera drug kingpin and the real-life drug kingpin who embroiled her in a terrifying real life soap opera, and… Sean Penn, who… was also there. It’s pretty wild. But one thing seems clear: There is nothing simple about tangling with Joaquin Guzman.
The Day I Met El Chapo: The Kate del Castillo Story is now streaming on Netflix. Read Amy Glynn’s reviews of Ingobernable, starring Kate del Castillo, and Univision’s El Chapo.
Amy Glynn is a poet, essayist and fiction writer who really likes that you can multi-task by reviewing television and glasses of Cabernet simultaneously. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.