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Zé Pequeno (translated as Li'l Zé and "Little José") is a Brazilian gangster and drug trafficker that terrorized the city of Rio de Janeiro during the 70s and 80s, and the main antagonist in the 2002 live action Brazilian film Cidade de Deus (City of God).
He was portrayed by Leandro Firmino.
When he was a kid, he was called Dadinho (Li'l Dice). Still a kid, he already wished to be the big boss of the organized crime in Rio. He and his best friend, Benny, hang around the Tender Trio (a group of thieves), which consists of Goose (Marreco), Clipper (Alicate), and Shaggy (Cabeleira). Dice proposes that the Trio rob the Motel Miami, a known brothel in the city. Outside the motel, Shaggy hands Dice a revolver and orders him to watch out for the police. While the Trio is inside robbing the brothel, Dice is annoyed at his position and shoots out one of the windows mid-robbery. As the Trio make their escape, Dice enters the brothel and guns down everyone inside in cold blood. The Trio is framed for the murder, while Dice gets away scot-free, and go their own separate ways. Knowing that Shaggy would never forgive him for this offense, both Dice and Benny leave the City of God. They return months later, where they run into Goose, who takes their money. As he is leaving, however, Dice kills him.
Over the years, Li'l Dice robs and kills numerous amounts of people. By the time they are 18, he and Benny are respected and feared in the community as the most wanted robbers in Rio. In a religious meeting with a witchdoctor, Li'l Dice is given an amulet to give him power and is renamed "Li'l Zé". He and his gang seize control of all of the rackets inside the City of God, killing off the drug dealers; he spares Carrot, however, because he is Benny's friend. Zé shakes down a local drug dealer named Blacky, telling him that he is no longer Li'l Dice, but Li'l Zé.
Without opposition, Zé grows rich. He even bribes the local police, allowing him to run his business without interference. It is here that both Zé and Benny's lives take different paths; Benny becomes a playboy and begins to date Angelica, while Zé expands his empire, becoming increasingly vicious. He later encounters the Runts, a group of criminal children, and captures two of the Runts; he forces a boy, Steak, to kill one of them and lets the other go as a warning.
Zé crosses paths with Mané Galinha (Knockout Ned), who was just a good guy and a ladies' man. Benny has decided to get out of the drug business and leave the City of God with Angelica. At his going-away party, Ned's girlfriend refuses Zé's offer to dance with him, so Zé snaps and forces Ned to strip naked at gunpoint, humiliating Ned. Shortly after, Benny is killed by a bullet from a humiliated Blacky that was meant for Zé. Zé becomes enraged by his only friend's death, and decides to finish off Carrot once and for all. Meanwhile, Blacky tells Carrot of his actions; Carrot, knowing that his life is in danger, kills Blacky. On his way to Carrot, Zé runs into Ned's girlfriend, and later Ned himself. Putting his plans on hold, Zé and his gang assaults Ned, and forces him to watch as Zé rapes his girlfriend.
Later on, at home, Ned is sitting at a table, lamenting about what had happened to him and his girlfriend. Zé himself is thinking along the same lines, deciding to put Carrot on hold and finish off Ned. Zé arrives at Ned's home and calls him out. Ned, however, is restrained by his relatives while his youngest brother, Gerson, arms himself with a knife and goes outside to try and reason with Zé, who refuses to talk to him, demanding that Gerson brings out Ned instead. Gerson agrees, then attacks Zé, injuring him. Zé guns down Gerson and he and his gang open fire into Ned's home, however Ned's parents and himself survive the barrage, but his younger brother Gerson and his uncle are not so lucky. Thinking that he's done enough damage, Zé and his crew depart. Minutes later, Carrot shows up and hands Ned a revolver. Zé is close by, getting his arm treated when Ned shows up, opening fire on them, killing one of Zé's followers, forcing Zé and his gang to retreat. Angry and confused as to what to do next, Zé kills one of his own men, Tuba, who consistently pests him at the most inappropriate times.
Carrot recruits Ned for his gang, believing his influence would be crucial against Zé. Ned disdainfully accepts, only to exact his revenge on Zé. This starts a bloody war between the two gangs, headed by Zé and Ned. In one of the shootouts, Ned himself is injured and gets his face in the newspaper, which infuriates Zé. He finds the camera and decides to have some pictures of himself taken to show the world that he is the true boss of the City of God. In his war against Carrot and Ned, Zé begins investing in firearms. When he does not get the weapons he wants from the arms dealer, he throws him out, but keeps his guns and gains the support from the Runts. Unbeknownst to Zé, however, the arms dealer is working for the police.
While attending a cookout, Zé and his gang chase down a chicken that has escaped its bonds through the streets of the City of God. Zé gets into a standoff with the police, who quickly retreat (just watching as the two gangs kill themselves, then coming back later to get what's left of them). Then Ned and Carrot showed up. Armed with a carbine, Ned, Carrot and their gang open fire on Zé and his gang, while everyone else takes cover. Knockout Ned is killed, while Zé and Carrot are captured by the police. The police plan to keep Carrot for the media, but take all of Ze's money for the weapons he stole and let him go, telling him that he will owe them the rest. The Runts show up when the police leave and Zé tells them that they may need to rob some people in order to get his business back to normal. However, the Runts knock Zé to the ground and kill him in retribution for their fallen friend.
Zé is extremely violent, cold, greedy and sadistic as well as vengeful. Killing for his own gain and amusement is something as trivial as breathing to him. L'il Ze has never had a girlfriend as stated by Rocket and has never danced before in his life.
Although cruel and treacherous, L'il Ze is pragmatic enough to follow some code of order that dictates who he can and cannot kill in his hood and the punishments for others who commit such actions, i.e Blacky.
Before killing the competition and taking over the City of God, Ze communed with a witch doctor who gave him a magical amulet to protect him but would kill him if he had sex with anyone.
- The real Zé Pequeno was a Brazilian drug lord named José Eduardo Barreto Conceição, infamous for his use of child soldiers and his brutality in gang fights.