Set in a future in which you are either an inhabitant of the Inland or the Offshore, 3% is a Brazilian dystopian series produced by Netflix. While the Inland inhabitants are doomed to poverty, the Offshore citizens benefit from an excess of resources and high quality of life. If you are one of the Inland people you get one chance in your entire life to earn your place on the Offshore and leave everything behind, and that is when you reach the age of 20, at which you can enter what is simply called “The Process.” However, only 3% of the people participating in the Process make it to the other side — the better side.
That’s already an interesting premise, even if a bit derivative from other titles in the genre, but it’s hard to say what it must be like to watch 3% as a non-Brazilian. As a Brazilian person, the elements that refer to the country’s people and culture are so many and so evident that several times I caught myself thinking: does the rest of the world also notice this?
That is not to say that the series importance or value is directly linked to its being Brazilian, or that you must be aware of these connections to better understand the series or find pleasure in watching it. However, once you are acquainted with Brazil’s reality, some of the show’s elements gain a somewhat deeper significance. For instance, the Process people torture those who they think might be people sent by the Cause. To those of us familiar with Brazil’s history, it will instantly feel like a flashback to the dictatorship we went through from 1964 to 1985, and their infamous methods of torture. So, if you’re a Brazilian person watching the show, it does make a difference to keep your eyes peeled for those elements, in order to maybe see your own country in a new way; and if you’re not, then you’ll be able to both familiarize yourself with a dystopian show from a non-English-speaking country (it’s not such a rare experience, but still unusual) and become aware of characteristics of that country that you might not have been aware of previously.
Below are my impressions and the comments of other Brazilian people who have also watched the series.
The diversity in the cast was something that both surprised me (in a good way) and made me feel like I really was watching a Brazilian series. That’s not because our film or television productions are good at that, because they definitely aren’t, but because Brazil is a very diverse country (and known worldwide for that). Getting to see it in a series that can be seen, and indeed is seen in many countries around the world is the least we should do. It’s not perfect, of course, but it’s much better than most of the Brazilian productions, and already a step forward.
The futuristic building in which the Process takes place is exactly that: a futuristic building, and it is not innovative or particularly interesting. What is interesting, though, is just how Brazilian the houses in the Inland are. They have the unfinished look of most of the Brazilian houses: few families have the money to actually finish their houses, and it’s not unusual for people to forgo non-essential steps of building in order to save money — such as painting the exterior walls of the house. Lara says, “the Inland really looks a lot like Brazil; maybe because it reminds me of the favelas”. The way in which the houses are disposed are a reminder of Brazil’s poorest neighborhoods and a specific type of architecture and urbanization that is particular to Brazil and also, to some extent, to Latin America.
Brazil is quite a Christian country as a whole. As a result of that, many of its values and morality derive from the Christian dogmas, and Brazilian people tend to have a lot of faith in God. Sometimes that faith presents itself in all kinds of syncretism. A fervent Catholic who also believes in Spiritualism, or a Christian who also participates in Umbanda rites, etc. Umbanda in itself a strongly syncretic folk religion. The fact that the Process itself leads to the development of a new form of faith — faith that is turned into religion — is something that could happen anywhere in the world, but that, for a Brazilian, might be even easier to understand. Faith in God might as well be translated into faith in the Process. Isabela points out that “the blind faith in the Process reminds me of the people here who accuse other people of having a “pet politician”. Political alliances can often turn into a weird kind of faith in Brazil, where the things a politician does and says are taken less like a political matter and more like a belief.
If you live in the Inland and you don’t have a registration (the chip behind your ear), or you do have one but you’d rather have another (for whatever reason), pretty much the only thing you can do is search for the illegal underground facilities that would make those modifications for you — and of course they exist. Fernando’s wheelchair is a makeshift one he and his father have built, themselves: they could not buy one, neither could they improve the makeshift one to the point of turning it into a decent wheelchair, so they just keep adjusting it whenever and however it’s possible. That’s what’s widely known in Brazil as gambiarra, the Brazilian way, in which you don’t deal with things the way you were supposed to, but rather, in easiest and most convenient way possible. In countries such as ours, and in worlds such as 3%’s world, there is such a thing as high tech and high life; high tech and low life; and there’s also low-tech and low life, when low-tech is all that is available to you. Technology hardly ever reaches all social and economic strata equally, and the people belonging to the lower classes try to reach that technology in whatever means available to them. That is true in the Inland, and that is also true in today’s Brazil — and I would suppose that is also true for many other developing countries.
There is this widespread belief in Brazil that you get what you deserve. If you own a huge company and are a millionaire, then it’s most certainly because you worked your way up. If you enter into a prestigious university, then it’s most certainly because you studied more than all the other people who didn’t enter. And if you’re a poor person living in the favela, it’s most certainly because you haven’t done enough to ascend. In 3% that thought process is made clear right at the beginning of the series — the title of the series itself is also a major giveaway. Few people can make it, and those who do absolutely deserved it. Real life is much more subtle, and the fact that not all people can be rich in capitalism is frequently ignored. But the parallels between 3% take on meritocracy and real life don’t need to be drawn: they draw themselves. The whole series revolves around it. And it gets even more Brazilian when we get to see what Marco’s life in the Inland is like: he is from a prominent family known to always pass the Process (and therefore he is sure he also will pass), he lives a somewhat sheltered life in a nicer environment that the other people in the Inland, and he is taken care of by a maid who treats him as if he were her own son. Lara says, “the fact that there’s a maid is also a strong characteristic, but I think it’s something we so naturalized that we don’t notice it”. Elza responds with, “I was thinking about the elite guy, part of a traditional family, but I hadn’t thought of anything besides meritocracy; it’s true about the maid though, who is portrayed almost like a wet nurse”. It was very common in Brazil for slaved women to become the wet nurses of their owners children. That can be linked to maids role in the rich homes of 21st century Brazil, who also take care of their employers’s children to an extraordinary extent. Black women make up for the majority of people working as maids in Brazil: Marco’s maid is also a black woman, which only strengthens its link to reality. It’s true that that role is so naturalized in our society that sometimes it takes a while for Brazilian people to realize that a full-time maid who is also responsible for the employers’s children is not exactly common practice (and nor should it be).
The ways in which 3% is intrinsically related to Brazil’s culture and society are many, one could write more than an article about it. But if one thinks about it, it can all come down to one thing: inequality. More specifically, social inequality, all that it brings and all that it comes with — economic, racial, gender inequality. Brazil is plagued by all of those. 3% is plagued by them as well. It is hardly a stretch to see 3% as an allegory to the state in which we are right now, and the state in which we have been for quite a few centuries now. It applies to the capitalist world as a whole, but it fits even better in Brazil’s case.
We are a country that was always (and still is) far from being the economic center of the world. When one takes a look inside the country itself, it’s yet another world of inequality and outskirts within outskirts. We are not the elite of the world, and we have never been, that is for sure. We are not, and we have never been the center of attention, the point of economic or cultural reference to which other countries look up. But even inside our own country, there is a difference among the classes that is as many worlds apart as our country is from the cultural and economic centers of the world. The struggle to reach the 1% is even worse than the one to reach the 3%, and it’s a never-ending struggle. As long as the power structure remains, so will the conflict.
One can’t ask too much
The series gets a lot of things right and so many others wrong. Three things annoyed me the most while watching. They were quite superficial things to be annoyed at, but they are still worth mentioning. The worn-out clothes are so falsely so that it initially distracted me. We get it, you want to convey that these people are so poor that they don’t own many clothes, nor are they able to clean them or themselves as often as they should. But if you’re going to do that, at least do so in a manner that looks real. The artificialness of it looks too theatrical, which leads to the next point, the theatrical acting. At first I, gave some of the actors the benefit of the doubt, thinking it would eventually get better. I was wrong, and I just had to deal with the fact that some of the performances were going to be too histrionic for their own good. I blame it on the path to become an actor available in Brazil: it’s highly likely that all the actors in the show began in theater, as it is the way most actors start out in Brazil, later transitioning to film and television. And, to be sure, some transitions are smoother than others. The last somewhat-superficial annoyance is only a problem if you have watched the original pilot, released on YouTube in 2009 — and watched by many Brazilian sci-fi fans then. There are many similarities and differences between 3% in 2009 and 2016, and it is clear that the Netflix production benefits from that. Still, there are some things I wish hadn’t been changed, or had been changed for the better. Character development is the first to come to mind, next to cast modifications.
Aside from that, the series really does have many other weaknesses that are not as superficial as the three stated above. It misses many chances of innovation and deepening of its meaning and message. Sometimes it comes off as this deep well-plotted insight into today’s society; sometimes that insight falls flat in clichés, superficiality, and unoriginality. When it comes to the technical issues of it, one thing that is clear is that Netflix did not spend as much money on 3% as it did on its other series.
All in all, it’s not only a good attempt at a dystopian series made in Brazil, as it is also a success at that. The country is not exactly known for its television shows that aren’t novelas (the immensely popular soap operas, by now inherent to the Brazilian people’s culture and habits), and much less for dystopian and sci-fi attempts. That is not to say that there weren’t any before 3%, but that those were and still are scarce.
I must admit I went in expecting the series to accomplish much less than it actually did. I am now patiently waiting for the second season, not only as a Brazilian person, but as someone deeply invested in good dystopian fiction.