The Cartel Among Us & the Demand for Spanish-Language Factual


Executive produced by Selena Gomez, the true-crime docuseries Mi Vecino, El Cartel (The Cartel Among Us) premiered earlier this summer on TelevisaUnivision’s recently launched streaming platform ViX+. Over the course of three episodes, the series delves into the murder of Juan Jesús Guerrero Chapa and how it helped to expose the insidiousness of the Mexican cartels in the U.S., spotlighting their particular impact on the insular community of Southlake, Texas. Director and showrunner Esther Reyes talks to TV Real Weekly about how The Cartel Among Us came to be, familiarizing herself with the case at its center and the demand for Spanish-language factual content.

After Blackfin Productions and Jordan Rosenblum, the company’s senior VP of development, came upon the story of Chapa’s case, they decided to reach out to native Texan Gomez, who came on board with her production shingle July Moon Productions. “Blackfin and ViX+ then brought me on as the showrunner and director of the series, and the rest is history,” explains Reyes, who had not heard about the case prior to being approached about helming the docuseries.

“As documentary filmmakers, though, once we take on a project, we make it our jobs to thoroughly research, do our homework and familiarize ourselves with the subject at hand,” says Reyes. “We quickly became as familiar as we could with the case; but once we began doing interviews with journalists who were there each day covering the trial, as well as the lead prosecutor, defense attorneys and family members, that’s when we really got a chance to peel back the onion.”

Reyes, who began her career working in public television, not only enjoys telling the stories of everyday people but also documenting the unfurling of a story over the course of making a documentary. In The Cartel Among Us, “because it’s a true-crime series, we are examining the case retrospectively and doing so via the perspectives of the newspaper journalists who reported on the case and the lead U.S. prosecutor, as well as the family members of some of the defendants involved. However, what’s also intriguing is that this particular case has not been entirely adjudicated. It is still evolving. The authorities are still putting the pieces together as we speak.”

In the initial aftermath of Chapa’s murder and the unspooling of the cartel threads surrounding it, it stunned the affluent and otherwise placid Dallas suburb. “As Dallas Morning News journalist Alfredo “Freddy” Corchado puts it, ‘These kinds of crimes may happen in Mexico, but Southlake is another world entirely,’” says Reyes. “You just don’t expect these kinds of events to happen in the U.S.”

True crime’s ongoing popularity is undeniable, which Reyes attributes to its voyeurist appeal, as well as the opportunity it gives viewers to play armchair detectives. A bilingual true-crime series, The Cartel Among Us also speaks to the demand for Spanish-language factual content.

“One of the most exciting aspects to this series, and something that drew me in, was the chance to produce a bilingual true-crime series,” says Reyes. “Growing up bilingual in the U.S. with one foot in each culture, you become accustomed to watching television and films in both languages. And very often, that’s also how we communicate—going back and forth between English and Spanish. Each language allows you to express different aspects of yourself.”

“As a Latinx storyteller and a Latinx consumer of content, my favorite types of series are just like any other American viewer, and that’s something that, in my view, we as U.S. storytellers have to keep in mind—our international Latinx audience is watching and is hungry for much of the same type of content as other subcultures,” adds Reyes. “And particularly in the U.S., I believe we love and enjoy the same TV as the other guy.”

Reyes also notes that those from the Latinx community are the most frequent moviegoers, a data point that she believes that streamers are starting to notice and act upon. With the growth of Latinx viewership and the rise of more Latinx content, Reyes hopes that there will also be increasing numbers of those from Latinx backgrounds behind and in front of the camera.

“Our Latinx culture is so varied and diverse, that’s something that a lot of folks don’t realize—from each unique country’s customs to their history and culture, to their food and music,” says Reyes. “I’d like to see the richness of our stories being told and represented on the screen by Latinos and consumed by the greatest potential global audience.”