Call Me Bruna opens with a scene of the titular character asserting ownership over every part of her body, while the camera ogles in search of more flesh. Was that a nipple – no, we’ve moved on to the shoulder.
It’s a small scene, but it expertly captures the appraising gaze of a potential client. Before she has taken her first step into sex work, Bruna (Maria Bopp) has declared that her body can be rented out, but she alone claims permanent possession of it.
Not to harp on the opening scene, but it also expertly captures our heroine’s iron will and sheer front. Imagine the kind of person who could walk into an intimidating Brazilian brothel (full of tradies doing renos, no less) and turn an equally intimidating madam’s flat refusal into a job. Now imagine that person is a 17-year-old girl who’s never done sex work before, despite her claims.
Even more intriguing, this is a true story. Bruna’s real name is Raquel Pacheco, and she did indeed run away from home at 17 to work as an escort. She rose to fame through a blog in which she shared tales of her time with clients, which was then adapted into a combination autobiography/how-to guide called The Scorpion’s Sweet Venom.
This isn’t the first adaptation of her story – in fact, it’s not even the first adaptation available to view on SBS On Demand. Pacheco, who dubbed herself “Little Surfer Girl” because her clients thought a beauty such as her belonged out on the waves, is a source of fascination in Brazil. In a nation that struggles with the contradictions of Carnival-style flesh and world-famous waxing regimens on the one hand, and cultural Catholic conservatism on the other, her openness about everything she has done is... bracing.
There’s been a lot of debate over taboos, bringing things into the open and the fact she came from a middle-class family. Here, with the space that an entire series affords, the creators can take the time to explore Bruna’s background, as well as the relationships among her new co-workers and the broader cultural context of prostitution in Brazil.
That doesn’t mean this is a slow burn, though. Over the course of the first episode, Bruna comes up against various small adversities and faces them unflinchingly. These range from rival sex workers to strange clients to amorous husbands to... well, we don’t want to spoiler everything, do we?
Stream Call Me Bruna now at SBS On Demand.