Fresh Justice

Fresh Justice

By Michael Pickard
May 21, 2024

The Writers Room

Eight years after Brazilian crime drama Justice aired, writer Manuela Dias is back with a sequel, Justice: Misconduct. She speaks to DQ about turning the Globo drama into an anthology series, rooting the show in real life and moving stories away from princesses and heroes.

In 2016, Brazilian series Justiça (Justice: Life is Not Fair) told the stories of four different people all arrested by police on the same night.

Now eight years later, writer Manuela Dias has crafted a sequel, Justiça 2 (Justice: Misconduct), which follows four new stories about people who are sent to prison. On their release seven years later, they must face up to the consequences of their crimes and their imprisonment.

Manuela Dias

Commissioned and produced by broadcaster Globo, which is also handling international sales, the series seeks to explore the impact crimes can have on the people who commit them and those affected by them, while also asking whether justice can ever truly be carried out.

Here, Dias tells DQ more about the stories that feature in the series, her writing process on the show and the opportunities for writers working in Brazil to bring their stories to the screen.

Please introduce us to Justice: Misconduct.
Justice: Misconduct has the same format as Justice: Life is Not Fair, with four independent stories that intertwine because they share the same space, the same city. The protagonist of one story is a supporting cast member in another or an extra in a third.

This dynamic between the importance of each character is also a mirror of our day-to-day experience. Everyone is the protagonist of their own story, even if they are an extra in our lives. Just as we are protagonists in our own plot, we have no importance in other people’s lives. Behind the format of the series is a provocation of alterity, understanding that even though we don’t know someone’s name, stories, dramas and dreams, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have a subjective depth that should be respected.

The motorcycle courier who delivered to our house yesterday is a protagonist. He has a name, there are complex dramas going on in his plot and he is certainly facing difficult obstacles, lost loves, a child being born, a grandmother dying. And, in his life, we are the unimportant extras. We urgently need to learn to respect other people’s humanity and not just our own. This is an important point for the series.

In Justice: Misconduct, we have the story of a motorcycle courier who is wrongly arrested as a result of the police’s facial recognition system; a niece who is raped by her uncle for two years, 10 years before the narrative begins, and who moves back in with her family; a manicurist who suffers without sleep for a month because of a drug point installed outside her house, and ends up killing the dealer to save her daughter; and a millionaire farmer who kills the half-brother with whom she would have to share her inheritance and lets an innocent woman be arrested in her place.

What are the origins of the original Justice series?
Justice: Life is Not Fair was born from a real crime. My cook lived in a rural area and kept chickens and a pet goose. The neighbour’s dog would invade her land and eat the chickens, which caused a lot of arguments. One day, however, the dog ate the goose, her husband lost his mind and killed the dog. It turned out that the neighbour was a policeman and my employee’s husband was imprisoned for almost a year. This destabilised the lives of the whole family forever. I kept thinking about the empty pillow next to her in bed. Justice is born from that empty pillow. What’s left after justice takes its toll?

Are there any connecting factors between this new series and the original one?
Justice is an anthology series, in which each season is independent of the previous one. This gives us a lot of freedom for new seasons, as it gives us freedom, for example, with the cast. In addition, as the format is very specific, there has always been a desire, both on my part and on the part of the company, to do a second season.

The format is the biggest connection between them; four stories that intertwine because they share the same city. Each of these stories involves a crime and four people are arrested on the same day. Seven years later, the four people are released and we follow their lives from then on. The series doesn’t enter the jail, nor does it narrate the court proceedings. What matters to me is what the person does when they get out of jail. Does she want revenge? Has she found forgiveness? Can she rebuild her life?

The series asks the question, ‘What does it mean for justice to be served in a country like Brazil?’ How do you try to answer it?
Doing justice is all about income distribution, in all places. Brazil is one of the countries with the highest concentration of income in the world. In the capitalist system, the ideas of meritocracy and the free market are a lie, and this has been clear for a long time. Every system is organised to accumulate capital, stratify society, restrict privileges and increase the exploitation between people. To make things worse, the groups that have their opportunities and privileges restricted and stolen are always the same: black people, women, the LGBTQIA+ community. As the society we have today is already totally corrupted and on the verge of social and climatic collapse, doing justice today, in Brazil or anywhere, means historical reparation. Today’s wealthy class accumulated capital by enslaving people, which is a crime, and they need to pay for it. They need to split the money.

How would you describe your writing process? Did you work with others on the series?
I have a team, usually a small one, because I tend to centralise the work. My logistical-creative challenge in making TV is to produce on an industrial scale, but in an artisanal way. For Justice: Misconduct, I wrote 28 episodes in one year. I had a collaborator for five months, but then I continued on my own. Each episode is about 40 pages long. When I’m writing a telenovela, I can’t be alone and then I have a team of three people, because the journey goes from 28 to 178 episodes and it takes about two years from start to finish.

In addition to my team, I have a constant exchange with the director and the production team, from the first pages written until the last chapter is aired.

How did you want to thread the stories of the four protagonists together?
What unites the stories in Justice: Misconduct is space. Screenwriting is always a game between Space x Time. In the case of Justice: Misconduct, time ‘repeats’ itself in the same space in four-episode blocks. To mark this period of time I use an ‘event’ in the city, for example a rainstorm, a car accident, an electricity blackout – events that take place in each of the four stories.

What can you tell us about how the characters move through the story – separately or together?
Each story has the person who goes to prison, but it also has a related character who stays out of jail. In other words, each plot actually involves two people (or more). The criminal and the victim, the thief and the person who was robbed. When the incarcerated character gets out of prison, in all four stories there is a reunion that demands forgiveness or awakens the desire for revenge.

How involved were you through production? Are there key elements you like to be involved with?
For me, the partnership between screenwriter, direction and production is fundamental and very stimulating. The exchange with [director] Gustavo Fernández was incredible, from the script to the location trip, the choice of actors and costumes. After following the creation of the costumes – in the case of Justice: Misconduct with the fantastic Marie Salles – I distance myself from the process. I’m never present at the recordings, because I feel like I have nothing to add. I go back to edit.

Playing with production is one of the challenges I love most about being a screenwriter. I want to adapt! Producer Luciana Monteiro is a partner in many projects and I greatly admire the lightness with which she handles such complex and heavy processes. If there is a problem, the cheapest and most efficient way to resolve it, whenever possible, is in the script.

Murilo Benicio as Jayme

Did you have specific thoughts on how the series should look?
I trust my partners. My text has no indication of the camera, almost no information about scenery, location, zero description of scene movement. Nor do I use any indication of how the actor should deliver this or that line or interpret a scene. However, I have agreed with all the departments, from casting to direction to continuity, that the text must not be altered.

Furthermore, I am always open to being surprised by the process. As I’m involved in choosing the location and the cast, much of what will happen is already pre-defined, but the recording process is, thankfully, extremely lively and, with the partners I’ve had to date, I’ve always been surprised for the better.

What can you tell us about the locations of the series and how it is used in the drama?
Justice is a ‘street drama’ that could be printed on newsprint, so the city has the strength of an extra character. Justice: Misconduct takes place in Ceilândia, a satellite city of Brasília, the capital of Brazil. As the city that hosts the federal government of Brazil, where the president lives, where Congress is located, Brasília has immense symbolic power related to the issue of justice in our country. The spatial occupation there is a drawing of inequality: the rich people live in the Plano-Piloto, a planned city, and the poor live in satellite cities, which are located around the Plano-Piloto. It is a city planned, from the beginning, for the exclusion of the least favoured.

Our narrative point of view is in Ceilândia and not in Plano-Piloto. Nowadays, I believe there is a saturation of stories about winners, princesses, heroes. Now we want to know the stories that make up what I call the ‘historical counter-plan.’ From Cuarón’s Roma to Bonh Joon-ho’s Parasite, Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, Lee Daniel’s Precious or A Mother’s Love, the telenovela I wrote, starring a nanny, and even Vikings, a series that gives a leading role to the so-called barbarians and places Catholics as ‘the others’ – the world’s narratives are dealing with this ‘income distribution’ of stories.

The leading role shifted from the princesses to the servants. We went from hegemonic discourse to giving a voice to the ‘defeated ones.’ Our settings migrated from the bosses’ huge suites to the employees’ cubicles. Dramaturgy is portraying the perversity and bankruptcy of our society on screen. It’s time to divide the cake, there’s no point in making it grow and dividing it later. There is no later.

What challenges did you face, in development or production?
In a creative process, almost everything is a challenge. I wanted to make it not only as good as Justice: Life is not fair’, but if possible, better. With a format that helps the narrative at the same time as it hinders it, because every format is a limiter at the same time as it is a tool. In the case of Justice, this format works like a puzzle which, at the same time as advancing with new ideas, requires rewriting the previous episodes every four-episode cycle. There was a time when I thought,‘My God! What the hell is this format? Who invented this?’

Why might the series appeal to international audiences?
Justice: Misconduct deals with current issues such as the Uber-isation of work, the racial injustice involved in facial recognition, sexual violence against women inside and outside the family, political corruption and sexism as a tool of oppression. These are active questions inserted in a narrative glued to the characters. This causes an intimacy with the characters that, on the one hand, creates identification, on the other hand, can be uncomfortable.

Furthermore, Globo produces with international quality – this point is fundamental. We have a history of dialoguing with this market and Justice: Life is Not Fair is yet another example of the power of this dialogue.

Now, with Globoplay International, this content production has gained a branch of borderless distribution and access. Furthermore, we have already talked about the possibility of selling the format for versions in other countries. In other words, all paths are open.

What opportunities are there for Brazilian creators to tell their stories, and what stories need to be told?
Brazil is a powerhouse of audiovisual production. We have a long tradition of writing for TV, series and telenovelas. Only on Globo alone, there are three new telenovelas on air at the same time. It is a market of 200 million people who basically consume Brazilian content, produced in Portuguese. Now, with much-needed awareness of diversity in cultural production, new narrative agents are entering the scene. The journalistic production carried out by indigenous people, who are telling their stories in real time, is a transformative narrative in Brazil today. We need to get out of our bubbles, because bubbles are opaque, we don’t see what’s out there. The diversity combined with the technological democratisation that we are experiencing needs to be supported by economic policies of historical reparation that encourage these communities to tell us their stories.

Might there be a third season of Justice?
I hope so, because I already have the theme and some of the stories.

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