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While Brazil awaits a gripping Supreme Federal Court decision that may lead to former president Lula Da Silva serving jail time for corruption, a Netflix series about the real-life bribery scandal that led to Lula’s legal woes has triggered a growing social media-led boycott campaign against the streamer as well as threats of legal action.
Narcos producer Jose Padilha’s new series The Mechanism depicts the so-called “Lava Jato” case (Portuguese for “car wash”) as a bribery and money-laundering scandal involving Brazil’s state-owned oil company Petrobras and contractor Odebrecht — which are renamed “PetroBrasil” and “Miller&Brecht” in the series.
The scandal, which became public spectacularly in 2014, shook the political establishment and so far has brought down a number of powerful businessmen and politicians from both the left- and right-wing spectrum, and was used by high-profile Lava Jato judge Sergio Moro to sentence former president Lula da Silva — who leads the polls by a huge margin as the Workers Party (PT) presidential candidate — to nine years in prison over a corruption case involving the renovation of a summer apartment as a form of bribe from a construction company. The former two-period president has repeatedly denied ever owning the property, accusing Moro of being part of a right-wing campaign to prevent him from running again.
Following the series premiere, Brazilian politicians, activists, and cultural journalists have called to boycott Netflix and accused the series-makers of misrepresenting the events.
Lula himself announced that he would take legal action against Netflix. “If we need to, we will sue in Brazil, in the United States, in Europe, anywhere,” he said during a campaign rally on Wednesday.
The boycott call occurs in the midst of a heated political scene in Brazil’s election year, which seems to revolve solely around whether Lula will be elected or imprisoned. In the last month, Lula’s campaign buses received gunshots in Southern Brazil; a left-wing councilwoman and activist against police brutality, Marielle Franco, was murdered in Rio de Janeiro; and yesterday, the day before the Federal Court hearing that will decide Lula’s fate, the head of the Brazilian armed forces tweeted what many regarded as a veiled threat of a military coup if the court ruled in Lula’s favor.
Former president and Lula’s chosen successor Dilma Rousseff, who was impeached in 2016 and replaced by right-wing VP Michel Temer, wrote a letter entitled José Padilha’s Character Assassination Mechanism, in which she accuses Padilha of inventing facts, and both promoting and creating fake news.
“The director does not merely use freedom of artistic expression to recreate an episode of Brazilian history. He lies, distorts and fabricates. This is more than intellectual dishonesty. It is a cowardly submission to a version of the story that fears the truth,” she wrote.
In the show, a character resembling Lula expresses his intent to “stop the bleeding,” referring to the political domino-fall that followed the scandal. Yet, Rousseff claims, in real life it was actually Senator Romero Juca, a minister in Temer’s administration who promoted the impeachment, who was recorded using that phrase in a conversation about the strategy to bring her down.
“It is appalling that the director puts these words in the mouth of the character based on Lula,” Rousseff wrote.
“The left was and is just as corrupt as the right. The Mechanism has no ideology,” said Padilha to Estado de S.Paulo newspaper. The director, who pointed out the disclaimer before each episode that says the series was only “loosely based on actual events,” didn’t pull any punches while responding to the boycott, which he called “pathetic.”
“They are going to miss out the fourth season of Narcos!,” he said ironically, referring to the other Netflix original series he is currently directing about drug cartels in Latin America, starring Diego Luna and Michael Peña.
While Netflix didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment, last week the Twitter account of its Brazilian branch posted a satire ad video promoting a “corruption shop” to “stay in fashion while being out of the law.”
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