A MARTINEZ, HOST:
The new season of a hit Spanish-language TV series co-produced by Netflix and Telemundo premieres this week. “La Reina del Sur” stars Kate del Castillo as the queen pin of a drug empire who’s now on the run. NPR’s Mandalit del Barco reports.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: The character Teresa Mendoza has been through a lot, and so has the actress who plays her, Kate del Castillo. As the third season opens, she’s in a U.S. prison, locked up for the murder of three DEA agents.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “LA REINA DEL SUR”)
KATE DEL CASTILLO: (As Teresa, speaking Spanish).
DEL BARCO: One thousand, four hundred ninety-three days in solitary confinement, she tells the man who’s come to see her behind bars. He helps break her out. And Mendoza becomes a fugitive.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “LA REINA DEL SUR”)
DEL CASTILLO: (As Teresa, speaking Spanish).
She’s an anti-heroine. She’s done so many wrong and so many bad things, but not because she wanted it, because she had to in order to survive. She’s a survivor.
DEL BARCO: Del Castillo says Teresa Mendoza is street smart, but she fell in love with the wrong guy. His death in the first season created an opening for her in the Mexican narco world.
DEL CASTILLO: She had no options. Either you do this or you die. Then she becomes the best drug lord, you know (laughter), in a world where men rule.
DEL BARCO: The second season, in which Mendoza rescued her daughter, was shot 11 years after the popular first season ended. “La Reina Del Sur” became the No. 1 TV show in its timeslot, more highly rated than anything else on TV in English or Spanish. Journalist Veronica Villafane is publisher of Media Moves, a website covering Latinos in the media industry.
VERONICA VILLAFANE: It was just a huge success. And it sort of became the starting point for all these huge, super production, super series that are basically narco-driven.
DEL BARCO: Del Castillo once met with Mexico’s most notorious real-life drug lord, Joaquin Guzman – El Chapo.
DEL CASTILLO: Oh, my God. No, reality does go beyond fiction, you know? It’s crazy.
DEL BARCO: In 2012, she tweeted that she believed more in El Chapo than the Mexican government. He asked to meet up with her, offering her the rights to his life story.
DEL CASTILLO: So you know, I’m a storyteller. I’m struggling still here in Hollywood to get the big opportunity. Plus, he was in jail, so why not?
DEL BARCO: El Chapo then escaped prison through a series of underground tunnels, so del Castillo met up with him in hiding. She was accompanied by actor Sean Penn, who ended up interviewing the fugitive for a Rolling Stone cover story. El Chapo was recaptured. And Mexican authorities investigated del Castillo. She was unable to return to Mexico for years.
DEL CASTILLO: Visiting El Chapo was my own decision. Everything later was not in my hands. And then I was a victim of all this thing that happened. For me, it was three, four, five years of hell.
DEL BARCO: Del Castillo tells her side of the story in a three-part Netflix docuseries, “The Day I Met El Chapo.” She told NPR she’s now able to travel to Mexico again, which is how she was able to shoot the third season of “La Reina Del Sur” in five Latin American countries. Del Castillo says the series’ production values are incredible. And the themes have evolved, too.
DEL CASTILLO: We’re staying away from narco traffic. It’s just, like, I think we’re fed up with that. Now it’s a political thriller, an action series. Also, we are talking about human trafficking, the corruption between different governments, not only in Mexico and Latin America, but also the United States.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “LA REINA DEL SUR”)
UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL GROUP: (Singing in Spanish).
DEL BARCO: In this third season, “La Reina Del Sur” is out for justice.
Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “LA REINA DEL SUR”) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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