‘The Queen Of Dirty Money’ Recap: Who Is Nelma Kodama?

I’m not going into whether someone like Nelma Kodama deserves to be the focal point of a Netflix documentary or not! Crime on the screen is something that always sells, and the more glamorous it is, the more people you have in the audience. So, it’s only natural for Netflix to churn out documentaries like Nelma Kodama: The Queen of Dirty Money. Just a while ago, the streaming giant had huge success with How to Rob a Bank, and the Nelma Kodama documentary appears to be cut from the same cloth.


Who is Nelma Kodama?

If you Google the name Nelma Kodama, you will find out that the lady is a trafficker. Of course, a routine criminal wouldn’t make it onto Netflix, so it’s quite obvious that Kodama is a big fish in the world of crime. What has she done? There are all kinds of unlawful things related to money, from illegal trading of money to what not! The lady was arrested at the airport with a truckload of black money hidden inside her undergarments. As a result of which, she ended up in prison. We actually get to see her donning the orange suit in the documentary itself. Yet she is extremely famous on the internet. The 6K followers on Instagram are clearly a sign of that. No wonder Netflix would choose a subject like her to do a documentary. Just like Kodama found an easy way to make money (albeit illegally), this is pretty much Netflix’s shortcut to success—not that I see anything wrong there! 

What Happens in the Documentary?

It’s always best to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth! So you have Kodama herself as the main narrator of the documentary, and she appears extremely confident, and it becomes evident from the start that she has absolutely no regrets for what she has done. Kodama clearly is a believer in doing whatever she wants, however she wants to, and she has no respect for the law. Criminal she may be, but the lady lives in a lavish mansion, and she has designed the house all by herself. There’s an adopted pug, which enhances the cuteness quotient of the documentary, and it would have been a crime if I hadn’t mentioned that. 


Anyway, The Queen of Dirty Money goes like most documentaries of this sort. But this one has an advantage: you get to hear the story (well, stories) from Kodama herself. She made her first million before she was even thirty. That was clearly a matter of pride, until she landed herself in trouble by quickly losing three million. She even contemplated suicide, given that the money she lost was not even her own. But ultimately, she decided against getting out of the field and chose to play the game instead. Wearing a shining white suit and sunglasses that certainly cost an impossible amount, Kodama tells the audience all these things, and she couldn’t be more proud of her achievements. I should clarify that I’m only summarizing the whole thing here and not giving my personal opinion (that comes in the next segment). 

Kodama didn’t come from a rich family. Her beginning was rather humble in the financial sector. But she always wanted to make it big, a dream she started to make a reality after meeting Julio Cesar, who was a dollar dealer. The term “dollar dealer” is heard several times throughout the documentary, and it basically means a person who illegally deals in currency. Kodama and Julio had a thing; she started to work for him, and soon she was doing unbelievable things. She was something of a natural in this line of work, maybe even more than Julio himself. It was only a matter of time until Julio was out of the picture and Nelma took the reins of the empire. That could happen mainly due to the arrest of Rocha Mattos, Julio’s brother-in-law, and a federal judge who got arrested for doing shady things over the sale of court rulings. Kodama had no problem taking the boss’ chair, and from there on, there was no stopping her from becoming a huge deal in the world of financial crime. And she was well supported by her former associate, Lucas, for more than a decade. Lucas also appears in the documentary and talks candidly about his former employer, a close friend. From his words, we get the idea that she is quite a fascinating character. He terms her an artist, comedian, and so many other things, implying he clearly has a lot of respect for the lady!


The Queen of Dirty Money also gets into her relationship with Alberto Youssef, a Brazilian businessman and, of course, a black-money dealer. Youssef and Kodama both got implicated in the infamous “Operation Car Wash,” which was possibly the biggest anti-corruption operation in Brazilian history. The whole situation of Brazil’s economy is also featured in the documentary, trying to add context to the whole thing. 


What can I possibly say here? The Queen of Dirty Money is made in a way that caters to a certain section of the audience who enjoys watching crime being sensationalized and criminals being glorified on screen. I don’t consider myself a moralizer, but I don’t exactly dig it. But my personal preference shouldn’t come into play here when I am talking about the technicalities. The documentary is obviously made stylishly, with cool music and snappy editing. Netflix has clearly spent money on it, which is evident from the production values. This might sound hypocritical, but I do believe these kinds of stories are better suited for fiction than documentaries. Because in cinema, you get to be part of a different world, where it becomes easier to get behind a questionable character. But it’s not exactly easy to watch someone like Kodama speak in such a casual tone. The thought of Netflix making money out of it is even more troublesome. Not to mention, Kodama is likely to make some out of it as well, thanks to her involvement. 


Is The Queen of Dirty Money a good documentary? My answer would be that it depends on how you perceive good and bad and what you want to watch. It’s certainly not bad, but you wouldn’t miss anything either if you didn’t watch it. 

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Rohitavra Majumdar
Rohitavra Majumdar
Rohitavra likes to talk about movies, music, photography, food, and football. He has a government job to get by, but all those other things are what keep him going.

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