Is Netflix’s Malverde Based on a True Story?

Created by Luis Zelkowicz, Netflix’s ‘Malverde: El Santo Patrón’ is a period drama series that chronicles the origins and rise of Jesús Malverde. The story is set in Mexico in 1910. It follows him as his orphanage becomes a redeemed Robin Hood-like figure to the masses. Lovingly called “The Patron Saint,” Malverde is admired by women across social classes, but his heart beats for his one true love- Isabel. When he admits to his sudden feelings for her federal authorities conspire to end his reign.

Malverde has to quickly win Isabel’s trust and fend off anyone who wants to remove his power. Comprising a stellar cast led by Pedro Fernández, the show engages the viewers till the end with its gripping storyline. The narrative’s characters and themes are incredibly real, transporting the viewer back to the Mexican Revolution. It also details the public sentiment at that time. All this makes one wonder if Malverde’s journey is rooted in reality or a figment of imagination? If you’re curious, we have answers!

Is Malverde: El Santo Patrón a True Story?

‘Malverde: El Santo Patrón’ is proclaimed to be a true story, but here is what we’ve gathered. Written by Carmina Narro, Iris Dubs, Juan Manuel Andrade, Luis Coimenares, and Luis Zelkowicz, the show is based on the life of Jesús Malverde, a popular figure in Mexican folklore. Known as “the generous bandit”, “angel of the poor”, and “the narco-saint,” he is somewhat revered as a patron saint by drug cartels, outlaws, thieves, smugglers, robbers, bandits and poverty-stricken masses.

Malverde is often associated with criminal activity, but he is also well-known for his work as a savior for the poor. He stole from the wealthy and gave the money to the needy. Interestingly though, there is no such historical evidence of such an individual having existed; most of Malverde’s history is based on folk stories passed over generations. He was supposedly born as Jesús Juarez Mazo Campos in January 1870 in Sinaloa, Mexico City.

According to different versions, Malverde lost both his parents to hunger and disease. This forced him to become a bandit. He worked earlier as a carpenter/tailor/railway worker under the regime of dictator Porfirio Diaz, and witnessed high economic disparity affecting his community. While the elite enjoyed a lot of benefits, the peasantry was forced to live in abject poverty, claiming the lives of many, including Malverde’s parents. Malverde became an outlaw and looted the wealthy to distribute the wealth among the poor.

Soon, Malverde found a nemesis in Francisco Cañedo, a supporter of Porfirio Diaz who governed Sinaloa. The latter offered to pardon the bandit if he could either steal his daughter or the governor’ sword. Malverde did not win the challenge. He was either shot or killed by the police, or betrayed and killed by an associate. Legend says that his body was not given a proper burial. His bones were left to rot and the public unofficially interred his remains out of respect.

Bust of Jesús Malverde//Image Credit: Mexico Unexplained/YouTube

Today, Malverde has a shrine dedicated to him in Sinaloa’s capital, Culiacan, and a large celebration is held by the locals on his death anniversary each year. As one can see, Jesús Malverde’s story is largely drawn from hearsay and has no proper verification in Mexican history. Besides, his outlaw image is unfortunately exaggerated and misused by drug traffickers to push their illegal trade, on the pretext of using their earnings for the community’s welfare.

It is possible that Malverde is actually based on Felipe Bachomo or Heraclio Bernal, real-life Mexican bandits. They operated in the region from 1855 to 1916. Both were anti-government rebels, and the former was betrayed and killed by his colleagues on Francisco Cañedo’s orders, just like what is written about Malverde. Isabella Castillo, who returned to the show for a press tour, explained why Malverde was chosen as the protagonist.

The actress said, “The most mysterious thing about Malverde is that we really don’t know a thousand percent with certainty if he was completely a real character in life. It’s this mysticism that fills Malverde with something that people really never get a hold of. We have an amazing team who obviously did their research, a huge group of actors who also did their research.” She further elaborated how her character La China Navajas, is a mix of various female revolutionaries from the Mexican Revolution.

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Karen Barreotta, the executive producer of the show, spoke out about how she combined fiction and pure research. “We did bring a lot of fiction to it to make sure we had a story to tell, but it was based on what he meant for people and how he lost his parents and how he became a legend…We have Porfirio Díaz that was the president back then, we have Pancho Villa that was in the revolution. We brought a lot more reality, in terms historical characters and persons that were actual at the time. We included it because Malverde was fighting to get justice. He wanted to help his people. I think it’s somehow very tied to how he was in reality.”

Barreotta acknowledged that some parts of the story were embellished to entertain. Thus, we can say that ‘Malverde: El Santo Patrón’ has faint roots in reality, but is mainly a tribute to Mexico’s folklore. This biographical show weaves a story of heroic valor and social welfare using local myths, legends, and a few historical figures.

Continue reading: Best Mexican Movies

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