I stumbled onto “3%” the same way I find out about a lot of Netflix shows — by previewing the shows recommended to me by its algorithms. Often, I’ll try out a show for an episode or two and decide it’s not worth anything further, but this one got me hooked, and I wanted to spend some time thinking about why exactly that is. Here’s what I decided:
1) It’s super entertaining.
I loved The Hunger Games series, and I have to admit that what initially attracted me to this show was a similar premise — young adults competing against each in a unequal, dystopian world to escape their circumstances of material poverty.
The show follows several characters as they try to reach the end of The Process — a system of puzzles and challenges that determines who will become a part of the elite three percent of the population that lives in the rich Offshore.
The main protagonists are Michele, who is haunted by the loss of her brother to The Process and committed to ideals of justice, and Ezequiel, who is a part of the three percent and runs The Process every year. But one of the strengths of the show is actually its large cast of characters, each of whom has his or her own storyline and background.
To make matters more interesting, there is also a mysterious rebel force known as The Cause that is trying to infiltrate The Process to spy on the Offshore and ultimately take down their system of governance.
I have to give a caveat that 3% is not your typical Hollywood-produced movie. It’s clearly on the low-budget end, but the filmmakers do a lot with what they have.
2) It’s not about the U.S.
As Beth Elderkin says in her Gizmodo article about the show:
It’s vital to support international science fiction in the US. It widens our perspective of how the world is, and more importantly, how it could be.
Watching “3%” reminded me how American and Eurocentric most of my TV-watching habits are. Even though the show isn’t about modern-day Brazil, the cast is clearly Brazilian, and the communities that the “candidates” come from seems to resemble favelas, with their crowding and sanitation challenges. Additionally, there’s an overall pacing to the show that feels different from what I normally watch on TV.
I also enjoyed hearing the Portuguese dialogue, and I’d recommend watching the show with the original audio and subtitles, rather than the dubbed version.
3) It’s diverse.
While Brazil is a highly diverse country, it still struggles with colorism. I imagine it might be an appealing prospect for filmmakers to build a primarily light-skinned cast. I was happy to see that didn’t happen with “3%” for the most part. There’s diversity among both the actors who play the marginalized Inland residents, as well as among the Offshore leadership. (I am giving a little side-eye, however, to the Netflix banner showing most of the darker characters in the back row and out of the light. It’s also worth noting that the biggest roles, Michele and Ezequiel are light-skinned.)
There’s also diversity in terms of gender, class, and physical ability (one character, Fernando, needs a wheelchair to get around). One point I really enjoyed is that Fernando isn’t desexualized the way that many characters with physical disabilities often are. He’s part of a romantic subplot in the show. He’s also not portrayed as an object of pity or as one-dimensional. He clearly has his own strengths and weaknesses outside of his physical body.
4) It shows ‘good’ and ‘bad’ as complex.
One of my pet peeves in fantasy/sci-fi is when characters are made simplistic, with the heroic people on one side and the evil characters on another. “3%” acknowledges that in real life, people have complex motivations for the actions they take. Pretty much every character has a secret or two that impacts why they do what they do and who they are drawn to connect with.
Ezequiel, who seems most clearly to be “the bad guy” at the outset of the show, is revealed to have a heart and his own principles, however twisted. And The Cause, which seems to be a network of underdogs at first glance, also develops nuance as the series progresses.
5) It makes you think about society.
One of the reasons I’ve always been drawn to dystopia as a genre is that it pushes you to think about the founding principles of the society we live in now, as well as how the world would be better or worse with certain changes. It allows you to take reality and ask the question, “what if?”
There is clear commentary in “3%” on wealth inequality, through showing the poverty of the Inland juxtaposed with the elite social life and high living standards of those who live in the Offshore.
Through including the element of The Cause, the show also seems to say that no situation so unequal can hold forever. Mass discontent will always push to the surface, no matter how many surveillance cameras or armed forces the government commands. It felt like there were harkenings to the Arab Spring, current class tensions in the U.S., and other modern-day political pressure cookers.
Perhaps Former President Obama put it best when he said, “Democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.”