3% is an eight-episode Brazilian scifi series. The story is set in near-future Brazil. Upon turning twenty years old, people enter The Process, a set of tests to see if they have the necessary abilities to represent the top 3% of society. Those who are successful win a place Off Shore (a rich, utopian island). The unsuccessful either die in The Process or return to a life of poverty and hardship.
The central concept works as a brilliant analysis of capitalism based upon meritocracy. We follow a new intake of young people – the defiant Michele, the selfish Rafael, the loner Joanna, the kind but disabled Fernando, the rich and congenial Marco, and the humorous Philip – and are fascinated by which ones will prove to have the right characteristics to survive, pass the tests and prove to be the best in society.
But winning comes at a price. You leave your friends and family behind. And those who fail The Process are inevitably resentful, in part because The Process is not 100% fair (Rafael cheats his way through, for example). An anti-Process terrorist group (called The Cause) is formed. The Cause send people to infiltrate The Process, assassinate the overlords (represented by the exquisitely evil Ezekiel), get to Off Shore and sow the seeds of social dissent.
The overlords and our protagonists become aware that there are infiltrators, and so a large dose of paranoia is added to proceedings as we watch. Who can be trusted? Especially when certain tests require the candidates to cooperate and form alliances? The betrayals come thick and fast. And the twists and turns. And the action and the drama.
The first four episodes are breathless fare. Episode 5 is the weakest moment in the series, unfortunately. It tells the back-story of Ezekiel in self-indulgent, melodramatic, stereotypical macho-culture style. But then the rest of the series is back to form.
It is important that you watch this series. Yes, it’s a Netflix Original but it represents a serious investment in Latin American actors, culture, talent, creativity and film-making. It’s filmed in the original Portuguese and dubbed into English, which may put off those who prefer the greater authenticity of sub-titles, but you can easily get used to it.
What we have in 3%, then, is a refreshingly different, subversive and relevant piece of work. It deserves a wider audience because it so enriching and truly shows the value of diversity. Make the effort to find this show and you’ll find yourself well rewarded. Join the 3%!