Is Snowfall Based on a True Story?

Image Credit: Mark Davis/FX

Created by John Singleton, Eric Amadio, and Dave Andron, ‘Snowfall’ is a crime drama TV series. The show takes the audience back in time to 1983 Los Angeles and follows the lives of four primary characters that get entangled amidst the rising crack epidemic. This includes young power-hungry drug dealer Franklin, Mexican wrestler and crime family member Gustavo, complex CIA operative Teddy, and Lucia, the niece of a Mexican crime boss.

‘Snowfall’ intricately depicts the impact of drugs on neighborhoods as well as the roles of the key players involved in their acquisition and circulation. Moreover, it delves into the family dynamics of the protagonists as well as how their fates connect. Fans love the show for its realistic portrayal of the 80s and are curious to find out if it is a true story. Without further ado, here is the answer to everyone’s question.

Is Snowfall a True Story?

‘Snowfall’ is partially based on a true story. It outlines the massive surge in crack cocaine usage across the United States in the late 80s and 90s that resulted in an increase in crime and violence in the cities and a harsh criticism of law enforcement. At the June 2017 ATX Festival panel, late creator John Singleton spoke about drawing inspiration for Franklin’s character from his young days. “This is kind of like my formative years… It changed my life,” he said.

Image Credits: Ray Mickshaw/FX

The acclaimed African American director grew up in South Central and attended school in Tarzana for a year. He used the comparison between his classmates and neighborhood kids to develop the show’s concept. He added, “Kids from the ghetto smoked weed and my friends from junior and high school did coke… But this is before crack, so it was an interesting thing to see how the transition was where that drug was accessible to people in the ‘hood.” Moreover, he confessed that Franklin is secretly named after the fictional character from the comic strip ‘Peanuts.’

Apart from Franklin, the rest of the characters and their storylines are heavily based on first-hand accounts and oral histories of people from those times. “There are people that lived this stuff. We had to bring people in the room that could speak to this. We brought in consultants who were deep into each part of it,” shared Singleton. These personal stories helped throw light on a lesser-known part of the CIA’s involvement in the crack pandemic, which is not especially known.

In ‘Snowfall,’ actor Carter Hudson’s character Teddy McDonald is a CIA operative who begins an off-book operation to fund the Nicaraguan Contras. Hudson discussed his extensive preparation for the character, saying, “I didn’t know any of it, and then when I found out I was terrified. Reading the books and watching documentaries, I’m like we should be talking about this everyday. That the CIA was illegally operating within the United States is shocking and appalling and terrifying… We don’t talk about it, and it’s considered [an] almost fringe conspiracy theory at a certain point and it’s crazy.”

Image Credits: Prashant Gupta/FX

In the Television Critics Association Panel in January 2017, Singleton divulged the sources they consulted to get authentic accounts. This includes Los Angeles Poet Laureate Luis J. Rodriguez, who was previously a gang member and drug user in the 60s and 70s. Moreover, the CIA narrative was expanded from the information obtained from the very same sources for period spy drama TV series ‘The Americans.’

In addition, Singleton commented on the harsh realities of the African American neighborhoods in 80s Los Angeles that form the crux of ‘Snowfall.’ “All of a sudden people who had no money had access to capital. They didn’t care if they brought death to the neighborhood, but grandmothers and aunties would gather around a vital figure in the neighborhood and support them. Some of these people would go on to jail for 15 to 20 years,” he said. Further remembering those dark times, he stated how the crack pandemic fueled people’s fears and made them implement more safety measures.

Several people have come forward claiming similarities between their lives and the show, such as Rick Ross, who was a notorious Los Angeles drug kingpin during the 80s. In Lord Jamar’s March 2021 podcast, he claimed that John Singleton took inspiration from his story for Franklin’s characters. Though there are parallels between his life and the character’s, his allegations were never confirmed as Singleton passed away in 2019.

Thus, we can conclude that ‘Snowfall’ is a brilliant semi-fictional retelling of real experiences and incidents, brought to life by the efforts of the creators, the cast members, and the numerous advisors who came on board to share their stories. Rather than focusing on a particular real person, it paints a picture of that entire period in general and emphasizes the impact of drugs, especially on minority communities.

Read More: Where Is Snowfall Filmed?