Colombian Telenovela: Latin American Special Case

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The presentation of "Sin senos no hay paraiso" (without breasts there is no paradise), one of the Colombian productions with an international success. Photo Telemundo.

When you listen about Latin American telenovelas (soft operas), surely you will remember the Mexican or Brazilian ones and their love story series. Mexico and Brazil are two of the first producers of telenovelas and they have been sold hundreds to the five continents. Telenovelas are, without doubts, the “Latin American Hollywood“. Even if several intellectuals hate these kind of long love stories, to the eyes of others Telenovelas have their good perspectives. But inside the big Latin American production, there is a kind of telenovela that calls the attention for its uniqueness: the one of Colombia. Let us see why.

America Ferrera, the USA version of the Colombian "I am Betty the Ugly", a story that has been represented in several countries around the world.

According to the researches of Ana Cecilia Cervantes, professor of audio and video production at the Department of Social Communication of the University of the North, Barranquilla, the Latin American telenovela is a cultural phenomenon that has worked like a factor of identity for the Latin American communities. In fact, the telenovelas in Latin America have created a kind of unity in the vast Hispanic countries and a link of contact with their motherland for migrants to USA and Europe. For example, telenovelas got an importance to the development and keeping of the Spanish language, almost as it is important the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language of Madrid to the Hispanic nations.

Carlos Vives and Margarita Rosa de Francisco in "Gallito Ramírez", 1986.

Latin American telenovelas are presented in countries like Israel, where there is a big group of Israelis and even Palestinians from countries like Argentina, Peru and Colombia. Their children keep in contact with the countries of their parents through these kind of stories that perform in some ways the roots of the Hispanic cultures. Spanish language became famous in countries like Russia thanks to Latin American telenovelas.

In the Colombian case, telenovelas have gotten importance as spaces of popular expressions of the social and political problems. In this case, the Colombian telenovela is different to the rest of the Latin American proposals, more concentrated in the traditional love story tells, according with the conclusions of A.C. Cervantes.

Presentation of "El Cartel de los Sapos" (The Cartel of the Toads), a story inspired in a book of a former drug dealer, Andrés López, representing real events of the drug cartels in Colombia.

Traditionally, public opinion make fun of the basic scrips of Latin American telenovelas as the love of a poor and a rich who have to pass through a long-term of intrigues until they are able to join in an everlasting happiness. In such story, many telenovela-lovers find the realization of their personal dreams and ideals of love. They see in a certain way what they wish and understand as the ideal love. The telenovela can engage persons from different social backgrounds, with the natural exception of intellectuals who see it as a lost of time.

Margarita Rosa de Francisco and Guy Ecker in "Coffee With Woman Aroma", another Colombian telenovela that went around the world showing the coffee plantactions and their dramas.

But in the Colombian telenovela that same love story is set in a real and historical background. While the Mexican one is developed in many cases inside an idyllic background or a background that wanted to imitate reality but beautifying it (for example, the poor is shown like a tender, cute and pitiful space), the Colombian is showing what is the reality of the social and political problems.

Peruvian Christian Meier and Venezuelan Natalia Streignard in the Colombian telenovela "La Tormenta" (The Storm) that gathered different Latin American artists. One of the first regional productions with a great success.

It is possible to say that if you want to know and understand the Colombian problems, watch Colombian telenovelas. The originality of their titles is already a prove of it. If you compare titles of other Latin American telenovelas with those of Colombia, you discover that there is something different. The Mexican “Los ricos también lloran” (Also the Rich People Cry), 1979, is dissonant with a “Sin tetas no hay paraiso” (Without Tits There Is No Paradise), 2006, or “Yo soy Betty la fea” (I am Betty The Ugly), 1999.

If the Latin American telenovela is inspired in the comfort of the high social classes, the Colombian abandoned that element long years ago to look stories in the worker and farmer classes and that is the key factor of its development, according to scholar A.M. Cervantes. Three telenovelas were selected for the study of Cervantes from different times: “La Alondra” (The Lark), 1964; “Gallito Ramírez“, 1986; and “Yo soy Betty la fea“, 1999. Cervantes concluded that the construction of the personality of the characters in their telenovelas were the main discovery of Colombia.

The experiment, that became a cultural and national one, has been transcendental and admired in other countries like USA, Spain and other Latin American nations. Some Colombian telenovelas have been reproduced in other contexts like “Betty The Ugly” or “Sin senos no hay paraíso” (in USA the producers have to change the word “tetas” – tits – by “senos” to respect the American laws that forbid the use of “vulgar expressions.”)

This cultural phenomenon of the Colombian telenovela is compared by Cervantes with the Italian New Realism (Realismo Nuovo) and the New Wave of the French representation that came after the Second War World. It was called “the drama of the own recognition” by Peter Brooks, also represented in fine art, taking as an inspiration the own reality as it is, without disguise it. After the war, the Italian directors who did not escape to USA and remained to see the tragedies of the bombs, began to produce movies with the little they had. But the most important to know was that they did not have professional actors to follow well-elaborated scripts. They got, therefore, the natural actors of the disaster. Something similar was already proven in Colombia with the Víctor Gaviria´s movie, “Rodrigo D, No Future“, 1990, where the actors were real young guns who would died under the urban violence of Medellín months after the movie was presented.

Although the Colombian telenovelas do not use natural actors in the same way of the Nuovo Cinema Italiano of the Post-War, it is true that the characters performed in the stories reflected the most simple life of Colombian and Latin American farmers, workers, migrants and other personalities seem with distance by other kind of telenovelas where the most important is to show romantic scenes.


  • Ana Cecilia Cervantes: “La telenovela colombiana, un relato que reivindicó las comunidades marginadas”, Revista de Investigación y Desarrollo, Vol. 13, No 2, 2005, issn 0121-3261 Universidad del Norte, Barranquilla, Colombia.


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