Brazil’s Netflix Original series ‘3%’ and the future of global TV content
Following the success of the first Latin American Netflix Original show, Mexico’s Club de Cuervos, the content platform released Brazilian dystopian series 3% late last year. Rather than being merely the latest young-adult dystopian offering (think The Hunger Games, Divergent), 3% is a thought-provoking commentary on contemporary Brazil, whose domestic and global success marks a new role for Netflix as a platform that can offer viewers a window into authentic cultures from the comfort of their sofas, or wherever they might be.
In a near future of scarcity and environmental decay, 3% follows a group of 20-year-old candidates as they attempt to escape their lives in the impoverished ‘Inland’ to join the utopian island-society known as the Offshore as part of an elite three per cent who make the cut; standing in their way, a series of physical and mental tests known as The Process. All the while, a rebel cell called The Cause attempts to infiltrate and bring down this system they see as unjust.
The series mirrors the enormous wealth disparity in Brazil, and reflects on the meritocratic structures that enable this nucleus of self-perpetuating wealth while many struggle in search of social mobility. “This theme is a large part of our society, and now we have more tools to talk about and understand this”, commented director Pedro Aguileira. These tools have been provided by the proliferation of internet access in Brazil, and of social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp – Brazilians are the world’s most voracious users of Social Media. These have allowed for increasing social conscience, organization and the rise of digital participative democracy in the country.
Importantly, Netflix provides the platform for Brazilian content to defy the norms of the average television programmes dictated by the Globo network, notorious for avoiding polarising (political) content and for being staunchly traditional. 3% not only makes a poignant socio-political statement, but also succeeds in circumventing the white Rio/São Paulo-centric duopoly on TV characters; 3% features strong female, black and handicapped characters among the lead roles, raising minorities to the forefront of the plot.
Television sets have been a near-permanent fixture of Brazilian homes for decades, often the first commodity purchased by a family, even before a refrigerator. However, the recent economic crisis has seen millions deserting standard Cable TV, coinciding with a boom in subscriptions for streaming services. Already, Netflix is generating more revenue than several large Brazilian networks (Band, SBT), and it’s predicted that streaming will displace the bastion that is Brazilian cable by 2020 for viewership.
3% has stirred the waters at home, but it has also surprised Netflix executives with its success overseas, drawing millions of viewers in the US and revealing that large English-speaking audiences, so often the centre of the entertainment universe, can be captivated by foreign-language content as long as the story remains relatable and well-produced. Interestingly, viewers were not put off by the almost comical English dubbing reversing decades of Brazilians sitting through poorly-dubbed Hollywood movies.
By investing in locally-produced content, Netflix may transcend their status as a video-streaming service to gain worldwide recognition as a production company that offers viewers a window into local cultures and stories that they provide global reach to. Documentary successes such as Blackfish, Winter on Fire, Cowspiracy and the recent White Helmets have been influential in awakening viewers to important issues across the world – animal captivity, the Ukrainian revolution, agriculture’s effect on the environment and the Syrian conflict. Indeed, Netflix is investing heavily in original factual content, with Brazil’s second Original feature set to be a docu-series on the current Brazilian government corruption scandal.
Showcasing local content produced across the globe could boost cinema industries in countries like Brazil that have a rich cinematographic history but whose actors and directors struggle to achieve mainstream international recognition. Fluency in English may become less important in foreign actors’ path to mainstream global success, as with Brazilian actor Wagner Moura, whose role as Pablo Escobar in Narcos brought him global recognition without it. Furthermore, it provides a platform for interesting work that might otherwise never see the light of day: 3% was revived from a series of YouTube pilot episodes released in 2011. This approach has been successful in the past for Netflix – the revival of Black Mirror to critical acclaim is a prime example.
3% reflects Brazil at a defining moment in the country’s political and social history, but its release and success may come to be a watershed moment in itself, subverting the influence of traditional Brazilian media locally and paving the way for more thought-provoking and locally produced content, streamed globally. Netflix have already announced the release of Argentinian, Mexican and Brazilian Original series this year and two Korean productions in 2018.
The globalist mind-set is losing favour, with people valuing interconnectivity but no longer accepting this pasteurised world-view. In this context, by giving global reach to regional voices often marginalized by Western-centric media, Netflix is proving that its true power lies not only in its reach and accessibility but also in its effective dissemination of difference and local cultural nuances to the world.
Image credits Indie Wire and Hollywood Reporter
- Article by Will Graham