Sean Penn’s El Chapo Interview: An Exercise in Self-Aggrandizement on Both Sides

Correct me if I’m wrong, but if one encounters one of the most wanted men in the world and simply decides to interview him instead of alerting the authorities to his whereabouts, doesn’t that, in turn, make this man in question equally as culpable? Apparently not in Sean Penn’s case.

The actor/occasional humanitarian went through great lengths to keep Joaquín Guzmán a.k.a. El Chapo from the long arm of the law during his painstaking interview process with the notorious drug lord. Through burner phones, disposable email addresses and secret meeting places, Penn was able to get one of the interviews of the century–at the cost of making it blatantly clear he (and many others) have nothing but respect and awe for someone so diabolical.

And, of course, El Chapo has already made it quite clear in the wake of his arrest that he wants a film to be made about his life–Penn will, inevitably, want to produce or act in it. El Chapo’s influence and power, which has far surpassed that of that other illustrious drug peddler, Pablo Escobar, is so far-reaching, “He shops and ships by some estimates more than half of all the cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana that come into the United States.” That’s a whole lot of drugs, and a whole lot of money for one tiny man to control.

In spite of El Chapo’s wrongdoings, Penn still tries to find ways to seek relatability, or even empathy, throughout the article, like when he notes, “And while I was surfing the waves of Malibu at age nine, he was already working in the marijuana and poppy fields of the remote mountains of Sinaloa, Mexico.” Is this sentimental depiction meant to make us feel sorry for El Chapo? Penn’s aggrandizement of both himself and the monger of violence and addiction is indicative of a larger problem spurred on by Hollywood: the glamorization of evil, merely because it depicts a life more exciting than those of the moviegoers willing to pony up the money to see something more riveting than their own existence. And even though Penn tries to moralize his actions in the article by asserting, “I take no pride in keeping secrets that may be perceived as protecting criminals, nor do I have any gloating arrogance at posing for selfies with unknowing security men. But I’m in my rhythm. Everything I say to everyone must be true. As true as it is compartmentalized,” it’s complete bullshit. The only motive for a piece of journalism such as this is glorification, making Penn complicit in a crime equally as great as El Chapo’s.