Right after Thanksgiving, the hills were alive with the sound of Gilmore Girls. However, that same day, a new Netflix original series slipped in through the cracks, and it’s one I think every sci-fi fan should support: 3%.
3% is a Brazilian series about a dystopian future where most of the world (or this one Inland location, it’s not really clear) lives in absolute poverty, and every year, all the 20-year-olds get a chance to apply to the Offshore, a glowing beacon of humanity for the privileged few. Only 3% of applicants make it in on average—hence the title. There’s also an Inland rebellion called the Cause, and they’ve spent years trying to supplant spies inside the Offshore.
The show stars a few of the Process’ standout candidates. There’s Michele (Bianca Comparato), a young woman who fights for equality; Fernando (Michel Gomes), the son of a preacher who’s spent his whole life in a wheelchair; Rafael (Rodolfo Valente), who’s kind of an asshole...but he has his reasons; Marco (Rafael Lozano), the latest generation of a long line of Process winners; and Joana, an orphan who uses the Process to escape her past, in a show-best performance by Vaneza Oliveira.
It’s admittedly not the most original concept at its core. The show is loosely similar to The Hunger Games in its focus on class warfare, with elements of the Unwind book series and other YA dystopian works. It doesn’t go into much detail about the world at large, or the history of their society. It’s not even the highest-quality show on Netflix. There’s one episode that looks like it was filmed entirely in a self-storage facility. But 3% has a powerful and unique human story that begins to reveal itself in later episodes.
Most importantly, it’s science fiction from a non-American perspective.
Dystopian sci-fi has homogenized over the years- partly because there’s so much of it, and also because diverse voices keep being pushed aside in favor of the latest “white American teen has problems with authority” storyline. 3% was shot and produced entirely in Brazil, in Portuguese (it’s got English subtitles, or optional English dubbing), and is based on an independent pilot episode from 2011. It’s dystopian science fiction through a Brazilian perspective, and there are themes and storylines present that you wouldn’t see in a normal Divergent-type show.
The biggest theme in 3% is merit vs. genetics, that people should earn their place instead of being born into it. It’s an incredibly Ayn Randian concept that draws on themes of choice, sacrifice, and rebirth. The characters in 3% are systematically broken down in order to be reshaped in a new image, to deserve their place in a “better world.” Not all of our heroes survive that process, and the ones who do have to reject their strongest values to do so.
Typically, when it comes to dystopian movies and shows about sacrifice, the idea of choice is taken away. In Children of Men, people are physically unable to bear children. In The Hunger Games, kids are chosen to participate in the games against their will. In both Divergent and The Maze Runner, all the heroes are part of an unwilling experiment. However, in 3%, kids voluntarily sign up for the Process, and every step they take is a choice to continue on that path. They see the Process as a religion, and any doubts are treated as a crisis of faith. The final choice they have to make, for Purification, is a fascinating twist that embodies the show’s theme of truly earning your place.
The best thing about the show, however, is the final episode. After weeks of tests, trials, and mistakes, every one of our heroes is forced to choose between what they want and what they need, and it was surprising to see the decisions that some of the characters make. It didn’t happen at all as I thought it was going to; the show caught me by surprise at least a couple of times. By the end, the show finally heads to the Offworld, a so-called utopia that appears to have more problems than it’s letting on...and one or more Cause agents might be heading there to stir the pot.
3% isn’t the best sci-fi show on television, or even on Netflix, but it’s definitely worth checking out. Netflix has done an awesome thing, bringing a Latin American sci-fi show to an international audience, and we need to encourage more of that by supporting unique shows like this. 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.