Narcocinema: On Liminal Tastes, Audiences, and Circulation

Due in part to the ongoing drug wars in Mexico, popular arts and culture critics’ interest in something called ‘narcocinema’ has been on the rise. Narcocinema refers to direct-to-video films about drug traffickers in the Mexico-US border – but this definition hardly encapsulates the complex liminal positions that these films hold. For instance, not only do the narratives in these films refer to marginal characters within society, but the films’ aesthetics are also beyond the limits of good taste. Similarly, the intended audiences of narcocinema (immigrant audiences, poor and working class people around the border) themselves hold peripheral standing within their nations. Finally, the circuits of circulation for narco films are notably outside the mainstream forms of distribution. While these intersecting types of marginality make this corpus of films a rich object of study, they also bring their own set of issues and research problems. In my paper, I focus specifically on the distribution of narco films in Hispanic video stores within Texas. I argue that these often neglected sites of distribution provide avenues for community connections across borders, primarily through the circulation of marginal films such as narcocinema. Therefore, scholarly research into these sites not only reveals the alternative consumption practices of displaced communities, but also points to changing cultures and transforming business models within contemporary film distribution. Furthermore, I explain that my study of these sites and these films can illustrate the multiple para/sites that narcocinema holds for media studies – marginal tastes, cross-border distribution sites, and liminal audiences – and that it may shed light on how to engage academically with “parasitical” objects of study.


Juan Llamas Rodriguez is currently a MA student at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema at Concordia University in Montreal. His research interests include the study of informal forms of media distribution; genre and paratexts; digital media and media theory; sound studies; film festivals; and issues of representation, specifically intersections between sexuality, race, and class.