"As fantastic as Michel Gomes is, he's still an able-bodied actor instead of a wheelchair user who could have brought more nuance to the role."
Episodes Reviewed: Seasons 1-2
Creator: Pedro Aguilera 👨🏽🇧🇷
Writers: Pedro Aguilera 👨🏽🇧🇷 (5 eps), Denis Nielsen 👨🏽🇧🇷 (6 eps), Ivan Nakamura 👨🏽🇧🇷 (5 eps), Cássio Koshikumo 👨🏽🇧🇷 (4 eps), Jotagá Crema 👨🏽🇧🇷 (2 eps), André Sirangelo 👨🏽🇧🇷 (2 eps), Juliana Rojas 👩🏽🇧🇷 (2 eps), Guilherme Freitas 👨🏽🇧🇷 (2 eps), and Teodoro Poppovic 👨🏽🇧🇷 (1 ep)
Reviewed by Laura Hindley of Strong Female Lead 👩🏼🇬🇧🌈
3% is a member of the Netflix Original family. A dystopian thriller from Brazil, it’s set in a future where society is heavily divided between the rich and poor. Those living in impoverishment are given the chance on their 20th birthdays to win a place on the Offshore—the “better side”. Only 3% of those who attempt it succeed.
Now in its second season, the show has been recognised for its inclusion of talent that crosses lines of race, ethnicity, and gender. 3% also tackles a number of poignant social issues, not least the drastic division of wealth. The 2018 World Inequality Report reported that the gap between rich and poor has increased in almost every region of the world over the last four decades. I respect the writers for meeting this issue head-on by creating a show that is thought-provoking while still being entertaining.
Truly, 3% succeeds as pure television. It’s exciting yet emotionally moving; the characters are both infuriating and relatable; and the drama is meted out in bursts of action and suspense. It’s no surprise that it’s been a hit. 3% currently boasts a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 82% and an IMDb rating of 76%.
Visually, too, the show is stunning. The contrast between nirvana (Offshore) and purgatory (Inland) is perfectly executed through ambitious cinematography. However, the dialogue can get a little clunky at times—my only reason for not awarding a full score on technical attributes.
One tip if you’re planning on viewing: do not watch the dubbed version. It’s terrible. Opt for the original Portuguese version instead, and find yourself falling in love with the show the way it was meant to be experienced.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? YES
Strong women drive the plot of 3%. The show begins with the introduction of Michele, played by Bianca Comparato, who is the series’ main protagonist. Michele has no surviving family and was raised by her brother, who did not return when he entered his year of The Process—a series of gruelling challenges young adults must pass in order to earn their place on the Offshore. Michele is intelligent and strong, presumably a result of her tough childhood, but she also has a strong sense of justice (even if it is sometimes misplaced).
To their credit, the writers of 3% assign both good and bad traits to a number of other prominent female characters. Marcela (Laila Garin) is devious and cunning as Season 2’s “baddie”, but she hits an emotional stumbling block when she comes across her son, who she had left behind after securing her place on the Offshore. Joana (Vaneza Oliveira), an orphan who survived on the margins of society, is razor-sharp and plays an integral part in the fate of The Process in the lead-up to the Season 2 finale.
These three characters, with their differences and ambiguous loyalties, are a refreshing take on the flat roles normally offered women.
"Why is it that black women always have to play someone with a perceived negative identity—slave, housekeeper, a victim of domestic abuse, villain—in order for them to be recognized as great actresses?"
Thankfully, the writers of 3% got the memo. While the casting does represent an idealized version of Brazil, a topic that Eric S.B. delves into for Nerds of Color as he highlights the damaging myths about Brazilian tolerance that the show perpetuates, I’m still pleased to see people of color given complex roles without having to be characterized solely through their pain.
Joana, who is black, and Fernando, played by Michel Gomes who appears to be black or mixed-race, are shining beacons of light with ironclad moral compasses. Fernando, especially, exhibits determination as he must work twice as hard to pass the physical elements of The Process, which isn’t designed for wheelchair users. Although Joana and Fernando are polar opposites in many respects, they both recognise the unjust nature of the society they live in and want to put an end to it, once and for all.
As progressive as 3% is, I found the lack of Asian characters somewhat surprising. The study “Tokens on The Small Screen” finds that onscreen representation of Asian diaspora is moving at snail’s pace. While this trend may certainly be at work here, a quick glance at Brazil’s demographics reveals that 3% is actually more likely simply mirroring its own population. In 2010, the latest available data, Asians only made up 1.1% of Brazil’s population, in contrast to white (47.9%), mixed-race (43.3%), and black (7.7%) populations. That said, I’m not sure how long we need to keep making excuses before Asian characters will start to be more visible on television, particularly considering how China and India alone make up almost 60% of the global population. Don’t forget, they have Netflix too.
From what we are told of their backstories, none of the main characters in 3% identify as LGBTQ. This is a little disappointing, especially considering how the show excels in other forms of inclusion. However, there are small pieces of LGBTQ representation dotted throughout Season 2. Although there aren’t any prominent and recurring characters who are anything but cisgender and straight, same-sex relationships are seen to exist in the Offshore. While this is not explored with any detail, Rafael (Rodolfo Valente) attends an Offshore “speed-dating” (more like hook-up) event where same-sex couples—M/M and F/F alike—are seen being intimate.
We are also introduced to a trans character, Ariel, who is thankfully played by a trans actor, Marina Matheus. Ariel is an acquaintance of Glória (Fernando’s childhood friend) who lives on the Inland and is preparing to compete in an upcoming Process. Sadly, however, she is not portrayed in a positive light. During practice trials of the tests, Ariel sabotages Glória in an attempt to get ahead herself.
Luckily, another instance of trans representation is much more positive. Brazilian music artist Liniker Barros, a trans black woman, makes a cameo in Season 2. She sings “Preciso Me Encontrar” while sat on a makeshift throne, dressed in head-to-toe festival fabulousness as she is carried through the streets by an entourage of men. An empowering sight to see, this is something I hope is included with more depth in future seasons.
Bonus for Disability: +0.50
Fernando is the only significant character with a visible disability. He’s depicted positively, and is full of resolve: during the interview portion of The Process, he insists that no exceptions are to be made for him. In addition, we can see that despite being underestimated by others, Fernando remains true-hearted. Neither is he boringly perfect; we see him express frustration at various points throughout the show. He is one of my favourite characters and I loved watching these personality traits propel him to success.
I only wish the showrunners decided to cast authentically. As fantastic as Michel Gomes is, the fact remains that he is an able-bodied actor instead of a wheelchair user who could have brought more nuance to the role. Now, if Fernando had a story arc that required walking, such as flashbacks prior to an accident, then it makes sense to cast an able-bodied actor. But currently, no such needs have arisen in the show. So it begs the question: why not hire an actual wheelchair user?
Just see how much can be gained by casting authentically. In A Quiet Place (2018), Millicent Simmonds (who is deaf) brought her life experience to the set and basically doubled as a consultant, guiding the script through the kinds of details that simply cannot be imagined, or researched away, by people who aren’t deaf.
3% does deserve to be recognized for its writing, which includes a major character with a disability. Fernando is complex beyond his chair. He isn’t dreaming of the day he will be “healed” and instead sees his mobility aid as a positive extension of himself. He also receives a romantic story arc, just as any other character would. I only wish that the show went all the way in representing disabled communities properly.
Mediaversity Grade: A- 4.63/5
If 3% is renewed for a third season—something that is almost certain to happen, based on the show’s success—I hope the writers extend their excellence in diversity to more LGBTQ representation.