'The Queen and the Conqueror' Review: Netflix's whitewashed retelling of Catalina's story is too good to be true
Netflix's 'The Queen and the Conqueror' alternatively titled 'La Reina de Indias y el Conquistador, is a historical drama that is loosely based on historic events. The show follows a dramatized history of India Catalina's tragic story. After being abducted as a child by Spanish conquistador Diego de Nicuesa from an indigenous settlement known as Zamba o Galerazamba, Catalina learns Spanish and becomes an interpreter and intermediary for another Spanish conquistador, Pedro de Heredia.
No one knows Catalina's real name and it is said she married Pedro's nephew, Alonso Montanez. In the show, the story is quite different. We see Catalina's abduction from her people by Nicuesa and the subsequent ill-treatment. The first few episodes paint Diego de Nicuesa as an immoral, selfish man who is more than willing to kill to get back Catalina (Essined Aponte) who was freed by Pedro de Heredia (Emmanuel Esparza).
Pedro de Heredia is shown as a kind, smart, and compassionate man — even to the native Americans and African slaves. Of course, the veracity of that is doubtful. We are shown that Pedro helped Catalina recover from a gunshot wound and that he was one of the "good white guys."
Here's where retellings and adaptations of historical drama are dangerous — when telling the story on someone else's behalf, the writers fall prey to whitewashing what really happened, and with 'The Queen and the Conqueror' being told from the imperialist's point of view, the story is not always trustworthy. This kind of criticism is in line with what many indigenous folks feel about the Disney movie 'Pocahontas'.
Here, the same thing happens — a native American woman falls for a white man who ended up in the New World because of unforeseen circumstances. In real life, Pedro de Heredia was more than a willing participant in Spain's colonial history. How else would have found a whole city in the New World if not for the support of Spain's crown?
In the show, it is shown that Pedro equally credited Catalina with establishing the city of Cartagena in Columbia, however, if that were the case, there is very little information to support it. We don't know the extent to which the real-life Catalina was treated and without even knowing her real name, how can her story be told truthfully.
In 'Pocahontas' as well, the real-life Pocahontas was married off to a white man old enough to be her father when she was a teenager. She was then trotted around as a "noble savage" for a few years before she got sick and died. Her culture was destroyed and her relatives murdered. And yes, the real Pedro de Heredia used slaves — so much so that Cartagena had become an important New World slave market.
At a whopping 60 episodes that are nearly an hour each, 'The Queen and the Conqueror' will certainly keep you entertained for long. But be warned that it is more similar to telenovelas with exaggerated shots and slow-moving plots — at some point, you may run out of patience. Should historical events be fudged so much to allow for entertainment? Doesn't history and the unfair treatment of indigenous peoples matter? How you answer those questions might determine whether you enjoy the drama or not. All episodes of 'The Queen and the Conqueror' are now streaming on Netflix.