Plata or plomo?
This is the question Miguel Hernando Torres Umba asks during his critically acclaimed production Stardust, a visceral education of the complex realities of the narcotics trade.
Plata or plomo, silver or lead, your money or your life; the question that frames his message that cocaine is the world’s problem, not just Colombia’s. The country’s portrayal in the mainstream media is too often framed by its association with cocaine.
“I didn’t realise the problem until I saw it from the outside,” says Miguel,
“My family never had any direct link with gang crime. I was sort of sheltered from it…then in London, you arrive at the airport and are interrogated for two hours…”
Cocaine consumption in the UK is at its highest in the past decade and its presence in popular culture a constant. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has condemned middle-class users for facilitating gang crime, and myriad statistics suggest that it is a problem that touches lives well beyond Colombia’s borders. However, the stereotype persists that this a Colombian thing made worse by Colombians.
Miguel hoped Stardust would help send a different message.
“Anything cultural – theatre, films, music – as long as you can create that emotional connection… they meet me and suddenly you’re with a friendly guy – you trust me.”
The show dissolves audience apathy by creating a relationship between spectator and performer. Miguel explains that he wanted to create a portal where people can empathise without having to see people dying or involved in the drug wars. He encourages the crowd to assess their own involvement in this problem – and we do.
But for all of Stardust’s brilliance, Miguel is swimming against the current, and another well-produced drama, with a slightly higher profile, gives the narcotics trade in Colombia a very different image.
The hit Netflix show Narcos, now entering its fourth season, has come under fire for romanticising narco-trafficking and perpetuating stereotypes that ordinary Colombians must deal with at home and abroad.
‘Around the world, that’s what people see’, says Miguel.
It’s an uphill task to rewrite a narrative pushed so heavily by popular culture, but despite the admirable work of those who want to change it, Stardust has received little attention from the very people who should support it most.
Miguel was talking to Jericho‘s Frederick Clayton.
Stardust was conceived by Blackboard Theatre’s Artistic Director, Miguel Hernando Torres Umba, and written by Daniel Dingsdale. It is an original piece brought to life through a creative collaboration between Miguel and a team including artist Diana Garcia, Luis Bonilla, Angelica Quintero (Colombia), Allison Ozeray (France), Daniel Dingsdale, Luke Harcourt, Alex Marshall Sofi Lee H and Cottia Thorowgood (UK), who believe in the piece as a vehicle to start a conversation.