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Elizabeth Banks Sees Cocaine Bear As A Redemption Story For The Titular Mammal

In 1985, narcotics smuggler Andrew Thornton II boarded a Cessna 404 Titan with approximately 88 pounds of cocaine in football-sized packages, as the AP reported. It was an average day in his line of work — until the plane began to have trouble. He dumped 40 packages of cocaine out of the plane, strapped himself with survival gear, the remaining drugs, and his parachute, then leaped into the sky. Little did Thornton know, as his parachute failed and he plummeted to his death, that he was providing the story for one of 2023's most exciting movies. 

Ultimately, a 150-pound black bear found the abandoned cocaine and gorged itself on the euphoric drug before dying shortly after of an overdose — with investigators saying its stomach had been packed to the brim with the narcotic.

The movie "Cocaine Bear," directed by Elizabeth Banks, alters that story. The bear in the movie is not 150 pounds but 500, and whereas no one was killed in real life, "Cocaine Bear" imagines the woodland predator going on a murderous rampage with a thirst for human blood. But according to Banks, she sees the film as a way to posthumously redeem that innocent, furry beast.

Banks sees the Cocaine Bear as senseless collateral in the war on drugs

Speaking to ScreenRant, "Cocaine Bear" director Elizabeth Banks noted that part of her motivation in making the high-octane comedy thriller was to posthumously redeem the real-life bear, having found the story a tragedy. "I read the script and I went down the Internet rabbit hole into the real story," Banks said. "And I found out that, in the real story, the bear consumed this cocaine, OD'd, and died. And I thought, I was so sad about that."

Said Banks, "It really depressed me that that bear became collateral damage in this insane war on drugs." The so-called "war on drugs," spearheaded by President Richard Nixon, had expanded significantly by 1985 under Ronald Reagan's administration. By 1984, the FBI's drug enforcement budget had ballooned and severe prosecutorial standards for cocaine had been imposed while arrests had substantially increased. This was almost certainly known to Thornton, a former narcotics cop, as he dumped the drugs that would cause heart failure in a small black bear.

"I just felt like this movie was the redemption story for that bear," Banks said. Those who wish to pay their respects to the real cocaine bear can find a taxidermized hide purporting to be the real deal at the Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall in Lexington. Alternatively, they can see "Cocaine Bear," which is now rampaging into theaters.