Netflix released a new Italian original series Zero this week on April 21. Produced by Fabula Pictures with the participation of Red Joint Film, Zero is Italy’s answer to the superhero genre, as well as being a groundbreaking representation of Black Italian youth.
In eight short episodes, Zero tells the story of a shy young man named Omar, a comic book artist working as a pizza delivery boy in the Italian city of Milan, who discovers he has an unlikely superpower. Omar can turn invisible. This will prove to be a handy power to have to try and save his neighborhood from gentrification.
Zero is a fun coming-of-age series, with a really great cast—one of the first in Italy with predominantly Black Italian actors—and a brilliant soundtrack with a mix of Italian and international artists.
As the series opens, Omar (Giuseppe Dave Seke) introduces himself in a voice-over as a bit of a loner. He lives with his father and sister Awa (Virginia Diop), and spends his time between working as a pizza delivery boy and drawing Manga with Black characters alone in his bedroom. There is a mystery surrounding the disappearance of Omar’s mother, which may be the reason why he has a strange aversion for painted portraits.
Everything changes for Omar the day he meets Anna (Beatrice Grannò), a student in architecture, on one of his delivery rounds. After talking with Anna about the vandalism in his neighborhood, on his way back home, Omar decides to put out the fire on one of the scooters set alight. However, a young man named Shariff (Haroun Fall) starts chasing him with a gun accusing Omar of starting the fire.
Cornered in an abandoned warehouse, scared by Shariff wagging his gun at him, Omar suddenly disappears. Intrigued by his ability to turn invisible, Shariff befriends Omar, nicknaming him Zero, and introduces him to his close-knit circle of friends, Momo (Richard Dylan Magon), Sara (Daniela Scattolin), and Inno (Madior Fall). Together, they decide to use Omar’s invisibility superpower to find a way to save their neighborhood from those trying to evict its inhabitants. Omar’s neighborhood, Barrio, is in danger. Rent is going up, and thugs are attacking the district to pull the price of its real-estate down.
The metaphor is clear and you’d be hard-pressed not to notice it, especially as the first five minutes of the series explains it all quite explicitly. Local homeless man, Dietmar, tells Omar he has the superpower of invisibility, which allows him to know everything that goes on in the neighborhood, because nobody ever notices him. This is exactly the superpower Omar will discover he has too, although for him, he will literally turn invisible.
It is also a metaphor for Omar’s whole neighborhood. Set in Milan, Italy’s financial center and fashion hub, much of Zero takes place within one of its suburbs largely populated by immigrants, as Omar informs us in a voice-over in the opening sequence of the series, considered invisible to the rest of the city. Zero is a portrait of an under-represented community, that the city, and by extension society, are perhaps too scared to look straight into, like Omar with painted portraits.
The eight-part series is loosely based on the novel Non ho mai avuto la mia età by Antonio Dikele Distefano, Italy’s rising star in the publishing scene, best known for his coming-of-age books that explore the lives of second-generation children of immigrants born in Italy. Antonio Dikele Distefano co-wrote the series, created by comic book artist Menotti, together with Stefano Voltaggio (also Creative Executive Producer), Massimo Vavassori, Carolina Cavalli and Lisandro Monaco.The series explores similar issues that Antonio Dikele Distefano’s novels are known for, with an added superhero element.
Zero jumped to the top of Netflix’s Top 10 Shows in Italy this weekend. The eight episodes end with quite an open ending, and a few loose ends, which will hopefully be explored in a second season.