Is Scarface a true story, and if so, who or what is it based on? When director Brian De Palma and writer Oliver Stone set out to create their 1983 modern take on 1932's Scarface, they wanted to make it as authentic as possible. They immersed themselves in the Miami nightlife scene, rubbing shoulders with kingpins (and queenpins) and dirty cops who served as Scarface inspiration.
Audiences who binged Netflix's Tiger King were reminded of this when exotic animal trafficker Mario Tabraue claimed to be the real-life inspiration behind Tony Montana. The real druglords of Miami make Scarface feel like a true story itself.
'Tiger King's' Mario Tabraue Inspired The Character Of Tony Montana
Although he wasn't as prominent in Tiger King as Joe Exotic, Carole Baskin, and Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, Mario Tabraue has his own alleged claim to fame. The founder and director of Zoological Imports supposedly served as the real-life inspiration for Tony Montana, Al Pacino's iconic character in Scarface.
Friends and acquaintances of Tabraue believe screenwriter Oliver Stone consulted Tabraue about the film's script.
The Film Took Its Setting From The Real Miami Drug Scene
The nightclubs in which Frank Lopez, Tony Montana, and Manny Ray do their business and philandering were close to the real deal. Miami native Roben Farzad, in his book Hotel Scarface: Where Cocaine Cowboys Partied and Plotted to Control Miami, describes the Florida city as a drug "boomtown":
While the rest of the country was suffering through oil shocks and usurious interest rates, Miami’s economy was buoyed by a white powder that could be bought for one thousand dollars a kilo in Medellin and sold for fifty thousand dollars a kilo in Coconut Grove. The city was awash in cash... As a result, law and order broke down so completely that one federal judge declared that Miami was “on the ragged edge of anarchy.”
The Hotel Mutiny Inspired The Babylon Club
The Babylon Club - the neon-tinged, smoky establishment frequented by Tony Montana and his associates - is largely based on the real-life Miami druglord hangout Hotel Mutiny. The hotel and club, which boasts 130 rooms, was, according to author Roben Farzad, "a criminal free-trade zone of sorts where gangsters would both revel in Miami’s danger and escape from it."
CIA affiliates, Jacqueline Onassis, and the members of Led Zeppelin made appearances at this members-only club from the late 1970s onward, as druglords like the so-called "cocaine cowboys" did their business.
The Filmmaker's Own Cocaine Habit Provided A Real-Life Backdrop
When Oliver Stone set out to write Scarface, he went method, so to speak. The writer spent time in Miami and the Caribbean, talking with people on both sides of the law. He told Creative Screenwriting:
It got hairy. It gave me all this color. I wanted to do a sun-drenched, tropical Third World gangster, cigar, sexy Miami movie.
The filmmaker said he was dealing with his own dependency issues at the time, which the research exacerbated. He moved to Paris to get away from it all, where he could focus better on the story - and the destructive force of the drugs that fueled Tony Montana's world.