Netflix and Crime: Killer Ratings

Netflix has been so good to me lately; by good I mean Netflix UK has offloaded a bunch of crime content not just from the USA as usual but around the world, particularly Brazil; by lately I mean in the past month which is when I started writing this post.

The first of this new batch of content that I watched is Killer Ratings. The tagline/synopsis whatever was all it took to draw me in and I was hooked from start to finish. “The true-life story of Brazilian TV host Wallace Souza, who was accused of literally killing for ratings, and using his crime TV show to cover up the grizzly truth.” How could I not watch it?

The seven part series covers the case of beloved Brazilian television presenter and politician Wallace Souza, who was accused of ordering the murders that he then reported on his popular television news program Canal Livre.

Canal Livre was a live program which reported on crimes including murders and drug trafficking in the Brazilian city of Manaus. The fed up residents of this crime infested area were impressed by Souza’s bravery of going right into the eye of the action to report on crime; he rode in with his camera crew much like a White Knight, often times arriving before the police and admonishing the criminals. In one episode he was even held hostage while attempting peace talks with the criminals, while the audience watched with bated breath. The residents were grateful for this programme, which provided them with the opportunity to express their grievances. In one scene, a woman confronts her son’s murderer on the show, Jerry Springer style. It was wild. There were also puppets. In short, the programme was Jerry Springer meets Dateline meets Sesame Street meets God knows what.

The popularity of the show and its host soar to astronomical levels; Souza and his brothers enter local politics and win elections by wide margins. Souza uses his platform to warn about the dangers of drug trafficking and urges congress to take the issue seriously and come down heavily on the drug traffickers. He becomes a sort of local hero. Things are all fine and dandy, until they are not.

The bubble bursts in the most random of ways. The police carry out a routine drug raid, in which drugs are confiscated and a man by the name of Moa is arrested. No big deal. Except it was the biggest of deals. Moa, a former police officer removed from the force for nine murders, is so terrified of going to prison where many of his enemies reside that he offers the police a tantalising piece of information. Moa tells the police that Superman Souza is actually the head of the drug dealing enterprise, and he orders for drug rivals are murdered-murders which are then covered in graphic detail on Canal Livre. Wild. The murders served to erase the competition and boost ratings for his programme.

This allegation kicks off the case against Souza, which is a rollercoaster from start to finish. Souza of course denies the allegations, claiming they are an act of political sabotage, and revenge from drug dealers for ruining their business. Not only are the allegations false, he had never even met Moa. Then pictures surface of the two of them in a pool and things just get worse. Souza is eventually impeached and loses his immunity which means he can be prosecuted. His son is dragged into it as one of the ringleaders. Incriminating things are found in his home. His life as he knows it is finished but the remains steadfast in his claim of innocence.

Through his wife, Moa retracts his allegation, claiming his initial statement was tortured out of him. The retraction is later retracted. There are so many parties in this; each episode plays a slideshow of unsavoury characters with possible links to Souza. Lots of lowlifes who don’t last the whole episode before they are killed. There are high ranking lowlife politicians who are caught on tape running a pedophilia ring, and Souza spends considerable effort trying to bring them down for this, no doubt becoming their enemy. We see Souza deteriorate as he fights to prove his innocence and he goes to the grave barely a year later still fighting to clear his name.

Before watching the series (and for the first couple of episodes) I thought it was proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Souza was the mastermind, but as I watched on I realised it is actually not that clear. The series doesn’t conclude one way or the other, and it is instead left to the viewers to decide what the truth is. Opinions are split- to some it answers the questions of how Souza and his team were always the first to arrive on the scene. To others it is an obvious frame up. I am still not sure. Why would he go so hard on drug dealers in such a public manner, if he was a drug kingpin himself? The evidence is not concrete and the case against Souza relies heavily on Moa’s testimony which is dubious. A frame up makes sense as he had made enemies not just of the druglords, but also the pedophilic politicians. Then again, I can see how Souza could be guilty, and why did he deny knowing Moa? Could the picture of them have been an innocent picture taken of a popular man with one of the many visitors to his home? Maybe the truth is somewhere in between.

I did begin to feel sorry for Souza towards the end because what if he is innocent of the allegations? That would be horrendous, considering what he was put through. But what if he is guilty? Argh. All I know for certain is that this is a fascinating case portrayed in a captivating manner in an excellent documentary which I thoroughly enjoyed watching.

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