Fact vs Fiction: Godfather of Harlem season 3 episode 5 — what was the French Connection?

Joe Colombo, Del Chance and Bumpy Johnson sitting around a table in a diner in the Godfather of Harlem season 3
Michael Raymond-James, Erik LaRay Harvey and Forest Whitaker in Godfather of Harlem (Image credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.)

Since the very beginning of Godfather of Harlem, the key component to Bumpy Johnson's (Forest Whitaker) criminal empire has been heroin. Sure, he has his numbers racket, prostitution hustle and a nightclub, but his cash cow has always been the drug. 

In season 1, he was getting his product from the New York Italian mafia, but by the end of season 2, he was able to secure the mafia's supplier for himself. He effectively stole what is known as the French Connection. However as seen in the new season, Johnson's victory was short-lived. 

With all that said, we decided to take a look at the real-life French Connection to help us separate fact from fiction. Additionally, given the attention paid to Carvens Aldridge (Eric Berryman) and his artwork in Godfather of Harlem season 3 episode 5, we took a peek at who he really was. 

Here's what we found out.

What was the Italian mafia’s French Connection to heroin? 

Isaach De Bankolé as Monsieur 98 staring in Godfather of Harlem season 3

Isaach De Bankolé in Godfather of Harlem season 3 (Image credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.)

The fiction
In season 3 episode 5 , Johnson's ability to control the French Connection was in limbo with Joe Colombo (Michael Raymond-James) gunning to reclaim the supplier for the Five Families. When Colombo initially met with Monsieur 98 (Isaach De Bankolé) to convince the American point of contact for the French Connection to do business with the New York Italian mob rather than Johnson, things don't appear to go in Colombo's favor. Even when the kingpin went over with Monsieur 98 how the Five Families have been doing business with the Corsicans that have run the operation for decades, the Frenchman was still inclined to do business with Johnson, who made a better offer. 

Unfortunately for Monsieur 98, his tactics didn't bode well for him in the end, as Colombo had him decapitated and regained control of the heroin supply without him. That left Johnson scrambling to figure out what to do next. So what was the big deal about the French Connection? 

The fact
According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, the first official US government reporting on the French Connection can be found in a 1934 Federal Bureau of Narcotics document. In the file, the former US agency acknowledged that the New York Mafia was funneling heroin into the country via their supplier located in Corsica, an island in the South of France in the Mediterranean sea. 

Despite the connection facing difficult times during World War II, it truly flourished in the 1950s and 1960s (the Godfather of Harlem is currently set in 1964). In an astonishing figure, at one point, 80% of the heroin in the US was supplied via the French Connection. Vice estimates that this 80% figure translates to about 40 to 44 tons of heroin trafficked in the US a year. 

The Five Families’ stronghold on the supply chain would remain incredibly profitable until 1971. As reported in the New York Times, that's the year the Turkish government banned the growing of opium, which was the main ingredient of heroin. That, combined with governments around the world, particularly the US, placing an emphasis on drug enforcement, and the free will of the French Connection became incredibly limited. Not to mention in the 1970s, Americans would start to find more of an interest in the party drug cocaine, as mentioned by PBS.  

Of course, this infamous drug operation was also the focus of the 1971 Best Picture-winner The French Connection.

Who was the artist Carvens Aldridge?

Ilfenesh Hadera and Eric Berryman as Mayme Johnson and Carvens Aldridge in a art studio in Godfather of Harlem season 3

Ilfenesh Hadera and Eric Berryman in Godfather of Harlem season 3 (Image credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.)

The fiction
At the start of the episode, Mayme (Ilfenesh Hadera) informed her husband she was having a painting of Bumpy commissioned by a local Harlem artist named Carvens Aldridge. When she met up with the painter, he went into detail about how he was able to kick his heroin addiction to become a passionate creator. One point that stuck with Mayme as he was telling his story was the fact he used to purchase his drugs from none other than Bumpy. It was a twisted 360 revelation that wasn't lost on the wife and mother. 

When it eventually came time to unveil the portrait to the Johnsons, things went incredibly left. As soon as he removed the sheet from over the canvas, Bumpy became understandably upset. The painting was of a face, half human and half monster. Aldridge attempted to explain that the image wasn't meant to be insulting, but a representation of the irony of Bumpy's existence as someone who both poisons the community and uplifts it. 

Bumpy was not receptive to the interpretation and laid into Aldridge. The gangster further ruined the painting with his knife. It was clear this overreaction was rooted in Bumpy's own feelings of guilt for making money on the back of his community's debilitating pain of addiction. At the conclusion of the episode, Aldridge was laying on the floor dead from an apparent overdose. 

The fact
After doing some digging, it appears that Carvens Aldridge was a fictional character created for the show. The character's story was seemingly used to push the narrative of Bumpy Johnson's dual role as a heroin dealer and neighborhood hero, and what effect that duality may have had on his conscious. 

The Godfather of Harlem airs new episodes Sundays on MGM Plus.  

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Terrell Smith

Terrell Smith has a diverse writing background having penned material for a wide array of clients including the federal government and Bravo television personalities.  When he’s not writing as Terrell, he’s writing under his pseudonym Tavion Scott, creating scripts for his audio drama podcasts. Terrell is a huge fan of great storytelling when it comes to television and film. Some of his favorite shows include The CrownWandaVision, Abbot Elementary and Godfather of HarlemAnd a fun fact is he's completely dialed into the TLC 90 Day Fiancé universe.