The international audience has been drawing comparisons between “Amo” and “Narcos” even before the world premiere of the former on Netflix on April 9, 2018. Both based on true events, the two series touch the conversation about drug abuse as a social issue.
“Narcos” of Colombia
Set and filmed in Colombia, “Narcos” was created and produced by Chris Brancato, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard. The first and second seasons of the series are based on Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar’s story while the third season picks up from his death and continues to follow the battle of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents against the Cali Cartel.
Escobar became a billionaire by producing and distributing cocaine earning him the moniker The King of Cocaine. He was played by Wagner Moura in the first and second seasons of “Narcos,” which premiered on Netflix in 2015 and in 2016, respectively.
“Narcos” Season 3, which premiered on Netflix in 2017, continued to receive warm welcome and rave reviews from the international audience. While many Colombians were proud of their very own critically acclaimed series, others accused the series of being sympathetic towards the politicians and the police officers.
“Amo” of the Philippines
Directed by 2009 Cannes Film Festival Best Director Brillante Mendoza, “Amo” is a 13-episode show and the first Filipino series to stream on Netflix. It is set against the backdrop of the war against drugs by the Philippine government under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.
The dislike of Duterte’s staunch critics towards the controversial war against drugs seems to automatically translate to criticisms against “Amo.” Among those who are not a big fan of the Filipino Netflix series is Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division deputy director Phelim Kine.
“One of the most notably preposterous elements of the show is the significant number of suspected drug users and dealers actually surviving their encounters with the Philippine National Police, which is contrary to what has actually been occurring since the drug war began in 2016,” Kine told BBC. He also criticized the Philippine government for presenting “a whitewashed view of Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war that paints a ludicrous veneer of civility and lawfulness.”
Responding to critics, Mendoza told the publication that people have to watch “Amo” first before giving their judgment. He stated, “Just because I did a movie about illegal drugs, people are starting to accuse me of doing a propaganda film.”
Mendoza’s 2016 Cannes Film Festival entry “Ma’ Rosa” showed the intricate interweaving of illegal drug trade and poverty in the Philippines. It was written by Troy Espiritu, who also wrote the screenplay of “Amo.”
‘Narcos’ and ‘Amo’- Alike and Unlike
Espiritu noted that the problems of the Philippines and Colombia when it comes to narcotics are almost similar. The critically acclaimed scriptwriter explained that “Narcos” is retelling a piece of Colombia’s history while “Amo” is narrating current events in the Philippines.
“Aside from the fact that both series are inspired from true events, ‘Amo’ focuses on the lives of ordinary people affected by the current war on drugs while ‘Narcos’ deals with the lives of big-time cocaine cartels in the past,” Espiritu said in a statement exclusively obtained by Conan Daily. “We know very well that Duterte’s War on Drugs has transcended beyond politics; it has pervasively immersed into our everyday lives.”
As Espiritu pointed out, the Philippine government’s extreme measures in addressing narcotics is so controversial that it is “understandable for people, especially the human rights groups and its allies, to anticipate, if not be critical of, what ‘Amo’ will be showing in its 13 episodes.” He added, “Is this a government propaganda, an attempt to glamorize, if not valorize, Duterte’s war on drugs or will ‘Amo’ show the weakness of the current system and the abuses that this war has produced? That is the lingering question that I’ll be leaving.”
For Espiritu, his job as a screenwriter and as a storyteller is to engage people and as he emphasized, viewers can have their own take after watching the show. He concluded, “Agree to disagree. Scrutinize if they have to. Feel free to say whatever they want to say regardless if it is negative or positive.”
In the main cast of “Amo” are Derek Ramsay, Vince Rillon, Felix Roco, Allen Dizon, Ruby Ruiz, Dexter Macaraeg and Natileigh Sitoy. The Netflix series also features Apollo Abraham, Elijah Filamor, Yoshihiko Hara, Aldrico Padilla, Malak So, Nikko de los Santos, Angela Cortez, Richard Manabat, Alvin Anson, Mark Dionisio, Neil Perez, Willy Quinto, Archie Adamos, Mara Lopez, JC Tan, Jalyn Taboneknek, Divina Mhelo Lacsi, Rhea Jai Fernandez, Kiko Matos and Baron Geisler.
Watch the trailer of “Amo” here: