Former drug queen sues Netflix and Telemundo over ‘La Reina del Sur’ TV series

Sandra Ávila Beltrán has filed a civil suit demanding compensation for the unauthorized use of her image

Sandra Ávila, in a promotional image of her biography written by Julio Scherer.
Sandra Ávila, in a promotional image of her biography written by Julio Scherer.

Sandra Ávila Beltrán, the “Queen of the Pacific,” has filed a lawsuit against Netflix and Telemundo for the alleged unauthorized use of her image in the La Reina del Sur (Queen of the South) TV series, reports the Mexican news outlet Milenio. Known as the femme fatale of Mexican drug trafficking during the 1980s, Ávila is demanding up to 40% of profits from the show starring Kate del Castillo that is based on a novel with the same title by Arturo Pérez-Reverte.

Israel Razo Reyes, the lawyer representing Ávilas, told Milenio, “It has a direct impact on her image.”

The legal process initiated by the 61-year-old Queen of the Pacific with Mexico’s patent and trademark administration agency (IMPI) alleges the unauthorized use of her image. This is an initial step, said the lawyer, so that she can proceed to sue the content platforms for damages in a Mexican court. “It’s very difficult to live with a drug trafficker’s nickname,” Razo Reyes told the Milenio reporter. “This woman has been fully acquitted in every appeal and criminal proceeding she faced.”

Ávila was released from a US prison in February 2015 after serving a seven-year sentence. She and her partner, Juan Diego “El Tigre” Espinosa, were arrested in 2007 as they were leaving a Mexico City restaurant. She had been pursued for years by US and Mexican authorities for her involvement in drug trafficking, and had been linked to some of the biggest narcos in the trade. But the charges against her were difficult to prove in court. In Mexico, she was released after a judge overturned her sole conviction for money laundering, and she negotiated a plea deal in the United States.

Actress Kate del Castillo in a publicity photo for 'La Reina del Sur.'
Actress Kate del Castillo in a publicity photo for 'La Reina del Sur.'Cuartoscuro

Sandra Ávila is now a free woman who is looking to capitalize on her story. There is no estimate of how much 40% of the profit from La Reina del Sur might be because “… it’s not public information,” according to Razo. The two seasons of the Netflix TV series was produced and distributed by Telemundo, and was mostly shot on location in Spain and Mexico. The first season was released in May 2011 and consisted of 63 episodes. It was Telemundo’s most expensive production ever, with a $10 million budget. The series was a hit with US audiences, averaging 2.5 million views per episode.

La Reina del Sur tells the story of Teresa Mendoza, a woman of humble origins who becomes a drug trafficking legend. Ávila alleges that the series mirrors certain aspects of her life and experiences. One example given by her lawyer are the episodes about the character’s arrest and extradition to the United States, which closely parallel the events surrounding Ávila arrest in 2015.

Ávila’s attorney says that this lawsuit is similar to actor Gael García Bernal’s case against the owner of the whisky brand Johnnie Walker. Mexico’s Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of the actor and ordered the company to pay compensation for the unauthorized use of the actor and his family’s images in a 2011 advertising campaign.

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