‘Zero’: Netflix Launches First Ever Scripted Series on the Black Italian Experience

The superhero series, which is set to go into production in 2020, could provide a much-needed breakthrough for representation in the country.
Antonio Dikele Distefano, Netflix, Zero
Antonio Dikele Distefano in Netflix launch video for "Zero"

Continuing its aggressive global push, especially when it comes to telling stories that spotlight the lives of underrepresented groups, Netflix has announced a noteworthy new original titled “Zero,” which marks the first ever scripted series to platform the black Italian experience, said its writer, Antonio Dikele Distefano, in a project launch video posted on the Netflix Italy Youtube page.

The idea for the series, which came from Distefano — a rising star on the Italian publishing scene — “Zero” tells the story of “a shy African-origin guy, a second generation Italian, who has an incredible super power. A modern superhero who, thanks to his power, will learn how to open up to the world and to love,” per the Netflix press release.

The aim is to create what the streaming giant describes as an original and unique exploration of the rich and diverse world of underrepresented cultures in Milanese suburbs, with rap elements.

Distefano is writing the series along with Italian comic book artist and screenwriter Roberto Marchionni, known by his pen name Menotti, and also Stefano Voltaggio, Massimo Vavassori, Carolina Cavalli and Lisandro Monaco.

“The idea of ‘Zero’ comes from my need to put different stories together in order to tell one,” Distefano said about the project. “The story of a special boy, of a black guy, who, thanks to his super power, manages to see the reality behind the appearance of things, people and relationships. Rap will be one of the protagonists of the story because rap is the language of our age, it is capable of describing environments that people do not see, such as the Milan suburbs where the series is set, and it is my language”.

Felipe Tewes, Director, International Originals, Netflix, said: “Our goal at Netflix is to find new local, unheard voices and give them the opportunity to tell their stories to a global audience. We are really excited to work together with Antonio, Menotti and the ‘Zero’ pool of writers to bring their unique vision to life in what will be the first superhero show in our offer of Italian Original contents.”

Twenty-seven-year-old Distefano was born in Busto Arsizio, in northern Italy, to Angolan parents. Initially a rapper, performing under the pseudonym “Nashy,” he eventually became an author, publishing several novels, including “the romance “Fuori piove, dentro pure, passo a prenderti?” Translated as “It’s Raining Outside, And Inside As Well. Can I Come And Pick You Up?” the novel was published by Italy’s largest publishing house, Mondadori in 2015.

The black Italian experience likely isn’t one that there is wide awareness of, nor is it discussed or depicted, at least outside of Italy. That there hasn’t been a single series (and few movies) capturing the experience, especially for a global audience, makes this move by Netflix quite significant.

Most recently, in 2016, a documentary titled “BlaxploItalian: 100 Years of Blackness in Italian Cinema” from director Fred Kuwornu, is a rare noteworthy attempt.

The film unlocks the filmmaker’s personal struggle with identity against the one-hundred year history of blacks in Italian cinema, beginning in the silent film era with an uncredited black actor who appeared in the 1914 film “Salambo,” to the still troublesome contemporary times.

Coincidentally, Kuwornu and Distefano are members of the initiative called United Artists for Italy Cinema, which was launched in 2016 in response to the stereotyped images of not just black people in Italian media, but also members of the LGBTQ+ community, and the disabled.

With Distefano’s “Zero,” Netflix will certainly be helping to forward the initiative’s goals.

A 2020 production start is set, with Italian production company Fabula Pictures — who produced Netflix’s second Italian original series, the Rome-set teen prostitution drama “Baby” — producing.

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