McMafia is a story about a man who, against his own will, finds himself interacting with the highest levels of organized crime. Alex Godman is another average investment fund manager, until he gets dragged into a criminal world he's been trying to avoid. McMafia shows a world of international criminal organizations warring for power, but how much of McMafia is based on true events? While the action at the center of McMafia is fictional — the criminal descent of the fictional Alex Godman — the world in which Godman finds himself is based on a true story.
McMafia was inspired by the 2009 non-fiction book McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld, which focuses on how different criminal groups across the world interact. McMafia pays special attention to Russian criminal organizations, and how Russian crime interacts with the world of London. And so, while the Godman family is fictional, the world of crime seen in McMafia is likely the most realistic you'll find on TV today.
As McMafia author and journalist Misha Glenny writes for Penguin Books, "In the past 25 years, Russian organized crime has emerged as one of history’s most powerful mafia structures." In explaining the name McMafia, Glenny shares that he was inspired by the Chechen mafia, which he calls "one of the most powerful organized crime groups in Moscow." Eventually, the Chechen mafia's power grew so large, that "Chechen" ended up becoming an effective marketing tool. "The Chechen mafia became a brand name, a franchise — McMafia if you like," he writes.
Glenny's book looks at a world of crime that is operating at the high levels in a variety of different areas which reportedly has an underground industry of money laundering, drug trade, human trafficking, and even nuclear materials. Glenny states that "including money-laundering and criminal corruption, the black economy is worth about $10 trillion, roughly 15 percent of global GDP." So, yeah, it's intense.
Series co-creator Hossein Amini shared with BBC that part of what McMafia the show hopes to accomplish is that the definition of "criminal" has expanded a great deal over the past century. "Modern criminals are no longer just thuggish mobsters. They can be bankers, politicians, lawyers, intelligence agents. The lines have become blurred and the boundaries between the overworld and underworld much more fluid," Amini said.
While stories of crime in the past few decades may have been focused on particular cities — think of how The Sopranos was about underground criminal power of New Jersey and how The Wire focused on control of the drug trade in Baltimore — McMafia shows that criminals in the 21st century are operating on a much larger scale. As Amini explains, "Our anti-heroes don’t run neighborhoods, they run countries. They don’t aspire to be the king of a city, they want to rule the world."
The events of the McMafia show may be fictionalized, but the reality behind the story is alarming. Glenny shared with The Guardian his own anxieties about criminal groups getting a hold on the world. "We have this strange paradox now," Glenny claims. "People on the one hand don’t seem to care; you can be a president and have some association with the McMafia culture, and that seems to be OK."
He also fears that England will be facing some major challenges at the hands of organized crime thanks to Brexit. "Legitimate business leaders say: ‘What we can’t deal with is uncertainty.’ But for the business of organized crime, the opposite is true. Uncertainty, chaos and disruption are a business opportunity."
The McMafia show takes a direct look at how the chaos of crime takes a toll on Alex Godman, but the show's most powerful message lies in the truth behind the fiction.