''ZERO'' : Italy's first mainly Black TV show. Though racism is rife, Italians are so very loathe to admit it.

While much of the world spent 2020 in lockdowns of varying severity, the 28-year-old Italian author Antonio Dikele Distefano had the busiest year of his life.

Along with working on his sixth novel and interviewing Italians of different ethno-cultural backgrounds for a television program, he spent months on the set of ''Zero,'' a show inspired by one of his novels that premieres on Netflix on April 21.

This is Dikele Distefano's first time co-writing a television show. Until now, he has been best known for his books : gritty coming-of-age fiction, with classics theme of heartbreak, friendship and uncertainty about the future, which have become a publishing sensation in Italy.

But the work of Dikele Distefano, whose parents migrated from Angola, also integrates his his experiences of of being a Black Italian.

And ''ZERO,'' which refers to the nick name of the lead character, is the first Italian television series to feature a predominantly a black cast.

Dikele Distefano says he hopes that fact will only briefly be a talking point. He likes to cite ''Coming to America,'' the 1988 Eddie Murphy comedy that made more than $288 million at the box office worldwide, as an inspiration.

''The film is so entertaining that you don't even think about'' the fact that the cast is all Black, he said of that movie in a Zoom interview last week. ''For me that is a victory.''

In his novels, Dikele Distefano takes a similar tack, throwing light on the lives of young people, the children of immigrants, who are not considered citizens, even when they are born in Italy, speak the language and share the same cultural references. They can apply for Italian citizenship only when they turn 18.

The desire to change society motivates much of his work, he said, including ''the idea of, in the future, having a country where my nieces and nephews can say, ''I feel Italian.'' So far, growing calls to change the law and grant citizenship to anyone born in Italy have not gotten far in parliament.

Dikele Distefano's raw and emotional open approach to his writing has struck a chord with readers of hos novels. While his books are shaped by his background, they home in on universal emotional truths.

''People often say that we need beautiful stories,'' he said. ''I've always been drawn to real stories. Truth appeals to me.''

He added, ''I wouldn't be able to tell a story far from me, something that I haven't lived or that doesn't belong to me.''

It was Dikele Distefano's ''authentic voice'' and ''clear language'' that caught the attention of Netflix, said IIaria CastIglioni, the streaming service manager for Italian original series.

She said that he was the first to bring to Netflix Italy the experiences of second-generation immigrants of Italy and that ''we were drawn to how he narrated his experience so naturally.''

''Zero'' is the sixth made-in-Italy series for Netflix, after the crime drama ''Suburra : Blood on Rome,'' now in its third season; the teenage drama ''Baby,'' also in its third season; the historical fantasy ''Luna Nera'' ; the super natural drama ''Curon,''and ''Summertime,'' whose protagonist is a woman of Italian and Nigerian descent.

CastIglioni said Netflix had seen a need to represent Italy's changing society. '' A very important theme for us is representation, to create empathy, so that as many people as possible find themselves, reflected in what they see onscreen,'' she said.

But ''Zero'' is not overtly about the struggles and the discriminations faced by Black Italians, she added. ''We tried to tell a story that was universal,'' while recognizing the greater difficulties that Black Italians have to deal with, she said.

''Our objective is to create entertainment,'' she added, and if that entertainment creates a debate, it's a plus, but we leave that aspect to our public.

''''Zero'' explores the metaphysical invisibility felt by many young people facing an uncertain future. In the figure of the main character, Omar [Giuseppe Dave Seke], an often-ignored pizza delivery guy, the metaphor is made literal.

He can actually will himself to become invisible. Attempting to save his neighborhood from greedy property investors, the mild-mannered Omar becomes a community superhero, joining a group of other young people who have their own useful skill sets.

The World Students Society thanks author Elisabetta Povoledo.


Post a Comment

Grace A Comment!