USA Network’s new summer action series “Queen Of The South” opens with its “heroine”, Teresa Mendoza (played by Alice Braga), complete with bejewelled stiletto heels, a pearl white designer dress and dark chunky sunglasses, stepping out of a white helicopter with an equally stylish entourage that moves in slow motion towards an extravagant house. As Teresa narrates as to the danger of her glamorous life, she is struck with a bullet she tells us she always knew would be coming for her. She is just as tough, cold and calculated as a man… and therein lies the problem with this remake.
“Queen Of The South” is the Americanized version of Telemundo’s historic crime telenovela “La Reina Del Sur” (The Queen of the South in Spanish), based on the novel by famed Spanish writer and journalist Arturo Perez Reverte. It tells the story of Teresa Mendoza (played by Kate Del Castillo), a young Mexican woman who over the course of 13 years becomes the most powerful drug trafficker in southern Spain. The major difference between this telenovela and its American successor is the portrayal of Teresa herself. Alice Braga’s Teresa is tough, hard and cold from the start. She operates in a man’s world like a man does. By contrast, Kate Del Castillo’s Teresa is sympathetic from the start and she grows stronger and stronger in each scene without losing the authentic vulnerability that anyone, male or female, would have in the situation the character finds herself in. It’s not that Kate’s Teresa is softer, it’s that she is a more realistic woman in a terrifying situation who gains and loses and gains again her confidence in almost every moment. She is layered and complex, conning and melancholy, vicious and compassionate. Alice’s Teresa seems determined to be as masculine as possible in order to survive and lest she forget her missive, the future successful Teresa keeps appearing to the lowly Teresa telling her in no uncertain terms how much she needs to get it together; a tactic not used in the telenovela.
There has been a horrible shortage of strong and ethnically correct female characters of late and I suppose Queen Of The South represents opportunity. However, the USA Network series is missing the grand opportunity that made “La Reina Del Sur” the most successful telenovela in the format’s history.
A woman need not be manly to be strong within a man’s world. Being a woman is strength within itself, something the writers come to must understand. “Queen Of The South” seems to want Teresa to be a female Tony Montana, focusing on Michael Bay style action… there is even an instance in which the score is just notes away from “Tony’s Theme” from the Scarface soundtrack. “La Reina Del Sur” created a relatable woman caught in an impossible situation who was constantly searching for a better life where she could be free.
Instead of “Queen Of The South”, I recommend watching “La Reina Del Sur”, which is available now on Netflix. Both shows tell the same basic story, “La Reina Del Sur” just tells it much better.
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