Netflix and Shifting Global Circulations of Race

Curator's Note

While half of Netflix’s subscriber base lives in the United States, Brazil provides its second biggest audience and the global streaming platform’s audience in Brazil is rapidly increasing. Thus, it is challenging privately owned TV Globo, the main producer of content in Brazil and one of the world’s largest networks.  Since 2017, Netflix has been developing series in Brazil, which it markets both inside and outside of the country. Its original speculative fiction series, 3%, for example, is set in an all-too recognizable dystopia with increased inequality, racial supremacism, and a turn towards the political right across Brazil, the United States, and Europe. Netflix describes the series as an international success. 

Netflix mediates Brazilian racial and class discourses and circulates transnational racial ideologies. The transformative shifts in global circulation, formats, and production of media texts replicate hegemonic racial hierarchies while also offering potential for disruption. Brazilian audiences have until quite recently largely consumed domestic television and have a strong tradition of national telenovela (serial melodrama) viewership. However, an increase in television consumption via the internet also opened the gateways to global streaming platforms such as Netflix. TV Globo is largely a media monopoly and whiteness dominates television screens even though Brazil is a majority non-white nation. Globo has exported its telenovela products across the globe, but breaks new ground by reaching English-speaking audiences, who seem to be tolerating the use of subtitles.

Unlike traditional Globo telenovelas, 3% features multiple Afro-Brazilian actors in major roles. Thus its transnational circulation presents a view of Brazil that challenges the myth of a racial paradise of harmonious mixing.  The global reach of the series and its success potentially challenges pervasive white normativity.  Furthermore, Netflix, as a competitor to TV Globo, potentially ruptures racial hierarchies of hegemonic whiteness. 



Thanks, Jasmine, for raising these questions about the competition between Netflix and TV Globo in Brazil. Reading all of the posts this week, it has been interesting to note how Netflix defines itself as a global streaming service while competing in markets against national and regional corporations. I was struck by your observation that "Netflix describes [3%] as an international success." I am guessing based on their history of publicly assessing the "success" of their original content that they have not provided data to specify the relative popularity of the show in the US, Brazil, and other global regions where 3% is available. If so, I would love to know more about its success in different regional contexts. I also recall that when 3% was first being (softly) promoted in the US, it was often described as the "Brazilian Hunger Games." While it is not a remake (and while many other media properties have similarly promoted thematic ties to the Hunger Games to attract young audiences), this strategy seems important in this context as it offers a transnational connection for audiences in both US and Brazil. In the US, viewers resistant to reading subtitles might be persuaded by the Hunger Games connection to watch (and read). For viewers in Brazil/US, does watching 3% lead them to other Brazilian shows/films, or does the Hunger Games connection lead them to Hollywood action films and teen dramas? This show would be a productive case study for testing Netflix's claims about building transnational "taste communities" through their algorithms.

Jasmine, thanks for a thoughtful post, and compelling video. I'd like to watch this show. I was curious about a number of aspects: To which anglophone countries is Netflix distributing this show? Does the trailer for the show in Brazil also have the inter-titles and the same voice over or are they additions for the Anglophone markets? In her post, Jülide mentioned that Netflix has introduced new genres in Turkey. Would 3% also be a new TV genre for Brazil? What's been the response in Brazil to this show? Do audiences like the representation of varied races? IN what ways is TV Globo responding to Netflix's entry? Is it changing in any way? What are the differences and/or similarities between TV Globo's export of its telenovelas vs. Netflix's distribution of 3% ? Is there an overlap in the markets that they reach or does Globo have a much wider reach? I was struck by the fact that the director was an Academy Award nominee. The video was quite compelling and the discussion below equally so. There were comments on language, dubbing and subtitling. The show is available in the subtitled and dubbed version; people were recommending the subtitled version. An US viewer was upset that other commentators thought that US viewers wouldn't read subtitles. There's even an comparison of the show with Stranger Things. Someone also stated that they were going to search for more foreign Original shows produced by Netflix because they liked this one so much. This is an intriguing development.

Thanks for sharing these fascinating developments, Jasmine! I was wondering if you could elaborate on the "Shifting Global Circulations of Race" indicated in your title? Judging from the video, 3% appears to feature a racially diverse cast. Does this representation significantly challenge the dominant whiteness on Globo, or is it merely diversification on surface? Also, how does the show speak to "a turn towards the political right across Brazil, the United States, and Europe?" If it is indeed comparable to The Hunger Games, I imagine it is perhaps at once a reflection and a critique of this political turn? What, then, do we make of its popularity/"international success?"

Great questions. The most dominant tv genre in Brazil is the telenovela. For export, Brazil usually sells its telenovelas to foreign channels (i.e. Univision, etc). However, with more streaming viewership practices, especially for younger audiences, Globo has now developed Globo Play to consume these telenovelas online. However, a subscription is still needed and it is not very accessible outside of Brazil as you usually need a Brazilian identification number. On another note, this series 3% was first transmitted via Youtube. The series caught on and then was picked up by Netflix. Another example of streaming services changing the traditional media industry parameters! By far and large, the majority of Globo telenovelas are white dominated. However, as a result of growing Afro-Brazilian activism and the growth of the middle and lower middle classes, these practices have started to change especially around 2010 onwards. I do think that Globo does see Netflix as a competitor. Globo executives have spoken about the competition from Netflix. Incidentally, I also know of a few Afro-Brazilian directors who have been contacted by Globo to develop programming. These directors and writers implied to me that Globo would have never wanted to converse with them if it was not for Netflix. As the Brazilian media landscape is very white dominated, it is quite possible that Netflix competition will force casting and production changes to remain marketable. Since TV Globo exports its telenovelas, the dominant Brazilian tv images transmitted globally are white dominated. 3% and other tv programming can potentially disrupt these domestic and transnational notions of race. Yet, there are national casting patterns to consider as well. For 3%, the national castings calls cited the difficulty of finding handsome black actors and therefore states that any handsome actors would be considers. This is a very pervasive form of antiblackess in which good looks are associated solely with whiteness. Yet, the global reach of the series and its success can potentially break open pervasive parameters of white normativity. With the current Brazilian political controversies and the Twitter campaign to unsubscribe from Netflix based on its new series O Mecanismo depicting a doctored version of recent political corruption, Netflix will continue to have to balance the specificities of its Brazilian audience and maintaining global appeal.

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