On Thursday, two actors on a Netflix series were killed and six other crew members were injured in a van crash near Mulegé, a city on the Baja California Sur peninsula.
Now friends of the victims—Raymundo Garduño Cruz and Juan Francisco González Aguilar, known professionally as “Paco Mufote”—are lashing out against Netflix and the independent production company behind the show, The Chosen One, claiming that the cast members had been complaining about poor transport and logistics.
Liliana Conlisk Gallegos, a friend of Mufote who has worked in the film industry, and is an artist and scholar, told The Daily Beast that she was heartbroken and outraged to hear of accusations that the crew may have been exploited to save money.
“Paco touched the hearts of everyone he ever met, he was a great actor with a strong trajectory,” Gallegos told The Daily Beast. “He loved acting and playing music more than anything in the world and he dedicated himself to it, many times suffering economic hardship. He sacrificed for his love of acting.”
“It fills me with rage that there are reports of abuse and exploitation being shared by people involved with the production,” she added. “I would like to demand that this is further investigated. If nothing wrong was going on, then there shouldn’t be an issue with providing the information.”
“It pains me to think he was taken advantage of, that he was being forced to work in subpar conditions, especially for a multimillionaire company like Netflix.”
Netflix declined to comment but confirmed to The Daily Beast that two members died while in transit from Santa Rosalía to the local airport.
A spokesperson said that the accident was not on set, and that two other cast members and four crew members were injured and in stable condition. The rep added that Netflix’s thoughts are with the families of the dead actors and that Redrum, the production company behind the series, has temporarily paused filming. The company will not comment further as the investigation is ongoing, the person said.
According to the streaming service’s website, The Chosen One is based on a comic book series by Mark Millar and Peter Gross and focuses on a 12-year-old boy who “learns he’s the returned Jesus Christ, destined to save humankind.”
The Associated Press and local media reported that the film crew’s white van overturned around noon on Thursday after running off a peninsular highway and into a desert area. A casting call in Backstage magazine lists the TV series as American Jesus and the production company as Redrum. In April, the website What's On Netflix reported that shooting on the series had begun.
On Friday, Novelist Rick Zazueta shared a scathing Facebook post demanding an investigation and blaming the Mexican film industry.
“People coming to Baja California to exploit natural and human resources and do nothing but inflate their wallets, egos and portfolios,” Zazueta fumed.
In his post, Zazueta claimed, “For weeks, the people close to this production have known that the logistics have been terrible. The actors have not stopped complaining about how badly they are being treated specifically in the area of transport and logistics. Locations in Santa Rosalía, Loreto and San Ignacio, flights from La Paz and Tijuana, old panels with flat tires, tired and over-exploited drivers.”
He also claimed that the talent was “transported like cattle to save a few pesos.”
“Shame on the Mexican film industry, Everardo Gout and Stacy Perskie must face it and not hide behind casting director Luis Rosales - who was coldly asked to give the news of the passing to the families of these great actors,” Zazueta wrote. “We cannot make the mistake of letting this happen, we cannot allow the death of these gentlemen to be in vain. The film industry has to change, we have paid a very high price once again in this country but we have to uphold the rights of the deceased.”
Last year, things looked promising for the series. Comic writer Millar told Deadline, “The development for American Jesus is coming along beautifully in the talented and capable hands of Everardo Gout (Marvel’s Luke Cage, Sacred Lies) and Leopoldo Gout (Molly’s Game, Instinct). I’m blown away by the creative choices that Netflix has allowed us, and particularly since this series will feature Spanish and English dialogue.”
For her part, Gallegos said that she’s worked in film production in the U.S. and that independent film companies “are penny pinching all the way.”
“I have worked in production in the US when independents are penny pinching all the way,” she added. “They function independently and then sell the work to the bigger houses of production. That way they can turn a blind eye to labor abuses.”
“I really wanna make it a point to say that this is a real issue that is global and it is parallel to that issue of outsourcing,” she told The Daily Beast. “We can see parallel forms of abuse and exploitation. At this point we don’t know much. All we want is answers.”
“I am not accusing Netflix of anything. I just demand that there is further investigation.”
Me acabo de enterar de la muerte de mi querido amigo Ray Garduño.
Murió en un accidente vial mientras filmaba como actor la serie American Jesus en BCS. Es imperante que la producción informe cuántas horas de descanso tenía el chofer que perdió el control de la camioneta.
— Fernando Bonilla (@fdobonilla) June 16, 2022
Meanwhile, actor and director Fernando Bonilla took to Twitter to mourn his friend Cruz, whom he’d spoken to hours before his death.
“It is imperative that the production report how many hours of rest the driver who lost control of the truck had,” Bonilla wrote.
“I am devastated,” Bonilla continued in a thread. “Ray was an actor, director and cultural manager who adopted Tijuana as his home. He was a festive and generous friend.”
“Many film and television productions have drivers overexploited, causing these fucking tragedies. I just found out and I can’t believe it. I have a crushed heart.”