While the sight of Wagner Moura’s face may make you think of Pablo Escobar, the violent drug lord he portrayed in Narcos, his new Netflix film Sergio, premiering on April 17, will help erase that. In fact, the titular character he plays, the renowned Brazilian-born diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello, is the polar opposite to the Colombian-born Escobar in sociopolitical terms. Known as the world’s “Mr. Fixit,” Vieira de Mello was a kind of James Bond of human rights.
He sought peace in places like Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia, and East Timor, and wound up becoming the target of a terrorist attack in Baghdad in 2003. Though he was strongly against the U.S. invasion of Iraq, he would ultimately be killed while heading a U.N. mission there and his incredible globetrotting life and tragic death (he remained alive but buried in the rubble for more than three hours) makes what The Los Angeles Times calls “a documentary of exceptional power.”
For Moura, who has worked for the U.N. as a goodwill ambassador for the International Labor Organization and the fight against slave labor, and is also Brazil-born, the charismatic negotiator who’d probably seen more wars, more human misery than any person of his generation, is a hero to him.
It’s the reason Moura not only stars in the film, but helped produce it.
“When he was killed, he was the high commissioner for human rights; when he started in the U.N., he was the high commissioner for refugees. He had this strong connection with people that were living in very bad conditions,” Moura told NBC News. “When I look at world leaders nowadays — and he was a world leader and was supposed to be the next secretary-general after Kofi [Annan] — I don’t see anyone looking at people with that kind of previous experience.”
The globetrotting diplomat was considered one of the most powerful officials in U.N. history. But what he did with all that power back in those days is nothing short of miraculous especially in the political climate of today. He had to deal with so many shady characters for his missions that he’d joke that his autobiography would be called War Criminals, My Friends. But while he had to hobnob with them, he never turned to the dark side, like so many corrupt politicians wind up doing.
In an interview with Deadline, the film’s director Greg Barkers describes Viera de Mello as someone who worked like a powerful viceroy, but who actually gave power to the people he was working with within the conflicts. His ability to understand the shades of grey of a situation and see beyond the conflict in the name of peace made him a legend in the world of diplomacy.
Every good biopic explores dark sides and love stories and Sergio doesn’t fall short in these categories either. Netflix describes the movies as “a drama focused on a man pushed to his physical and emotional limits as he’s forced to confront his own divisive choices about ambition, family, and his capacity to love.” In the film, the diplomat seeks to build a simpler life with his partner, the economist Carolina Larriera, played by the Cuban-Spanish actress, Ana de Armas.
But in the end, he takes on that final brief assignment in Baghdad even though he didn’t want to. Moura and the film’s creators want the world to know about a Latin American man that used his passion and idealism to affect change. Barker notes to the Los Angeles Times: “Traditionally, there’s a split between idealists and realists, but he had a foot in both camps; he used the best qualities of each approach. Not many people can do that.”
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