Francesca Chiari, Contributor
The new Netflix original “Baby” marks the third collaboration of the platform with the Italian film industry (the first being a documentary about the Juventus soccer team, and the second being Suburra, a movie about the mafia). Finally, Italian cinema has the ability to portray local social dynamics for an international audience through Netflix’s major resources, something the industry has been missing since its international success during the years of Vittorio de Sica (“Bicycle Thieves”) and Federico Fellini (“La Dolce Vita”). Directed by Andrea De Sica, nephew of Vittorio de Sica, “Baby” is a coming-of-age teen drama loosely based on a real scandal that hit the luxurious Parioli neighborhood in Rome and involved two underage girls found in the midst of an underage prostitution ring. The incident led to many arrests, including the mother of the younger girl and politicians.
“Baby” has only been out for a couple of weeks but has already sparked many controversies. After being accused of instigating suicide with “13 Reasons Why” and promoting fat shaming with “Insatiable,” Netflix is now accused of glamorizing sex-trafficking by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. “Baby” tells the story of two teenagers who are prostituting themselves to older men, but the movie doesn’t try to glamorize it. Instead, the creators try to find the reasoning behind underage prostitution by looking for the systemic problems leading to it because as the facts show, it’s a problem that is actually happening. In the show, the characters have to juggle the emotional tornado of teenage years, the void caused by “having everything,” the standards of society which make you feel like you have to buy things in order to fit in as well as family dysfunction during the years that are so vital for growth and self-identity. “Baby” has good intentions and tries to avoid judgment on underage prostitution (prostitution in Italy is legal, but not underage). Still, the show has flaws other than its portrayal of underage prostitution.
Unfortunately, the show fails in developing its stories and its characters. This may be because it has only six episodes or because it tries too hard by adding many subplots. The result is something that falls into typical tropes that take away some of the reality (student-professor relationship being an example). However, I appreciated the fact that the male main character is half Lebanese. Hopefully, this is the start of representation that is long overdue in the Italian film industry and in a country that is still struggling to accept Arabs simply as people that are part of the nation’s population now.
Nonetheless, the show was enjoyable. While it falls into many genre tropes, (love triangles for example) it succeeds in representing the Italian generation I grew up in ― a generation characterized by Instagram stories and Whatsapp vocals ― something many recent movies and TV shows have attempted but awkwardly failed at. One of the few qualities that helped the show succeed in this representation was that it was scripted by the Grams: a collective of young writers, whom, before writing, interviewed many teenagers to try to understand them.
Finally, I was able to see something to which I could personally relate: Italian high school and all of its flaws, the street signs and small things such as the characters being able to drink wine at the restaurant because it’s part of the culture. I would suggest that you watch it. You can hate it or you can love it, but it gives an interesting view into Italian middle/upper class, which is similar, but at the same time so different, from America’s (as long as you can get past the awful English subtitle translation).
This article was originally published in the Dec. 14, 2018 issue.