Four young women on ‘Summertime’’s representation, inclusion and advice for the next season

Four young women on ‘Summertime’’s representation, inclusion and advice for the next season


I belong to the Beverly Hills 90210 and Dawson’s Creek generation and even though I haven’t watched a teen drama for a few years, I didn’t want to miss Summertime for various reasons. Firstly, last year I was told about this series in the making. Then, a month ago I got some messages with a link to watch the trailer, but—most especially—the leading actress, Coco Rebecca Edogamhe (whom I liked in her acting debut), is black and wears a beautiful Afro crown.

I also wanted to take a closer look at Tre Metri Sopra il Cielo – Three Meters Above the Sky, a novel by Federico Moccia. When it was published a lot of friends were talking about it, but I didn’t read it because I wasn’t interested. It became a generational cult, it was made into a movie and recently into a series from which Summertime is partly inspired. I was also curious to see how Step, the male protagonist, was represented in that book. He was a character that many of us met in Rome in the 90s-2000s, with his roaring Harley-Davidson that made everyone know he was passing by without the need for people to turn around and check the road.

Premiered on Netflix on April 29, Summertime—produced by Italian production company Cattleya—recounts Summer and Ale’s love story. In the background, a summery  Adriatic coast colours the episodes filled with music, stories of friendship, love, family and life.
griot mag summertime coco rebeccaI’m so pleased to finally see an Italian black actress in a leading role, and I must say that, from the perspective of a teenager the whole project is nice, soft and spot on in many parts.

Netflix is certainly an encouraging player for the international and the local audiovisual industry, pushing them to create original stories that are inclusive, authentic, and more attractive for an international glocal market. We have already been witnessing a progress in the recent years, thanks to some Italian series featuring black Italian actors in co-starring roles such as Suburra, Nelle tue mani (In your hands), Nero a metà (Half Black), Alla ricerca della felicità (In pursuit of Happiness), Tutto può succedere (Anything Can Happen), as well as the upcoming Netflix series Zero due in 2020 (we talked about it here).

Talking about the series with a more critical lens, I think it has a huge potential, but the first season revealed a few weak spots. It is very slow in some parts and a few other things should be fixed. In fact, it received lots of attention on social media, with both positive and negative comments. This is why I asked four girls in their twenties a few questions on representation and inclusion in the series, on the plot, and on what they think the series missed and should be included in an eventual second season.

Eva, 24, Italian-Nigerian, she studies Chinese and occasionally works as a model. Cult series: The O.C.
griot mag eva intervista summertime netflix diversità inclusione colourism afroitalian afrosicendenti neri italianiGRIOT: What did you like in
Summertime and what do you think it’s missing?

I really loved the way the main protagonist is represented. They didn’t represent her differently because she is black. She is an ordinary girl, with her life and her friends. The weakest point of the series is that there are no other black Italian characters or people with other origins in many of the scenes. It doesn’t make any sense. Without intending to create stereotypes, but thinking about my personal experience, black Italian girls always try to find someone they can identify with, because as much as I love a girlfriend, the way I can talk about certain topics with someone who’s like me is different than talking to a friend with whom I don’t share similar concerns and experiences.

The series doesn’t show much about her cultural background. Is it something that you felt was missing?

Being only eight episodes, it’s pretty normal that they didn’t shed light on her cultural background. I think it was an honest and deliberate choice. They could have fallen into the stereotype of “what it means to be black”, but they didn’t. I really liked the soundtrack, the fact that she doesn’t necessarily listen to Beyoncé, Drake or hip hop music, but to old and contemporary Italian songs. I liked that they associate her image to Italian songs, I recognized singer-songwriter Mina, but I didn’t know the other tracks, so I shazamed them and I really like them. It was nice because through music they showed an aspect of what it means to be Afro-Italian. I am Afro-Italian and I also love Italian songwriting.

If a dark-skinned girl had been cast for the series, do you think she would have got the leading role?

I don’t think so. The light-skinned, dark-skinned issue concerns many countries besides Italy, because it is much easier for a white audience to accept a person with a similar complexion. It’s like, ‘You’re acceptable, your black skin is not too black.’ However, it’s about colourism. If I think about myself, I know I’m offered to do photo shoots because I am light-skinned. I have never seen dark-skinned girls at these shoots. I think the choice of light-skinned people depends on how the industry sees us compared to dark-skinned characters playing a leading role. They think they can reach a wider audience with a light-skinned body, while the latter are less attractive.

Do you think so?

I don’t. I think it would work, especially because I feel that the new generations are much more open-minded. However, we must say that the age factor is relevant. People in their forties and fifties who work for production companies still have that old mentality. The new generations are looking for representation and inclusion for LGBQT people, for people with disabilities. If we compare our context to the United States, we are far behind. For instance, they have TV series focusing on trans people, while in Italy we are still talking about skin color. We are far behind.

Summer’s best friend, Sofia, is a lesbian. Talking about inclusion, how did you feel about her role?

I take for granted that there are LGBTQ characters in a series today. The opposite would have been quite strange to me, to be honest. Also because in my life I’m surrounded by all kinds of people. Maybe when I was 13, I would have been surprised to see a gay character, but not today.

Which characters impressed you the most?

I would have worked more on the characters, actually. They don’t have much personality, apart from the mechanic, who is a sweetheart. Of course, Summer is the protagonist, but the other characters don’t stand out even in the scenes where she’s not present, they don’t shine.

How does it feel to know that an Italian series of this kind is having a lot of success in many countries?

I’m very happy that the first Italian TV series with a black woman as the protagonist is successful, not only in Italy but also in other European countries. I think it’s also because the series shows a little bit of the diversity that exists in Italy, which obviously exists elsewhere. It is a good step forward and from this point on, there is no turning back.

If a second season came out, would you watch it? What advice would you give to the screenwriters?

No, I don’t think I’d watch the second season, because I didn’t get into it and I found it hard to finish the first one. I would suggest the screenwriters to put more effort into creating characters with well-defined personalities, as well as into the characters’ styling and the space design.

Sarah, 22, Italian-Nigerian, she is a model. Cult series: Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, That’s so Raven
griot mag _summertime -netflix sarah misciali_intervista johanne affricot
GRIOT: What did you like in
Summertime and what do you think it’s missing?

I have never been a big fan of Italian series, because I have never felt represented. As soon as I saw the Summertime ad, I was like: ‘What? Wow! Are we sure it’s an Italian series? Finally someone I can identify with, it is finally happening in Italy, there’s an opening.’ Actually, I would have loved to see more dialogues about some of the issues and the things black people have to deal with in Italy—not necessarily the old man who yells bad things at you—or even seeing other characters with other origins, besides her, her sister and her father. While watching, I thought ‘Oh my God, what is this place you ended up in?’ Anyway, I see it as a first step. It’s not Get Out, but it makes sense.

The series doesn’t show much about her cultural background. Is it something that you felt was missing?

Yes, I missed it, but not that much because I knew what to expect. That’s why I think that if they had involved a black screenwriter, there would have certainly been different nuances in the final result. I mean, it’s a very Italian-style series, but I like that at least they put her in the leading role. And this precedent might encourage other people, maybe even me, to do more.

If a dark-skinned girl had been cast for the series, do you think she would have got the leading role?

Since it’s a first step, they probably aren’t even aware of dark-skinned and light-skinned issues. It also happens when I do fashion campaigns, it’s a problem that exists, but even if I tried to ask why there are no dark-skinned models, I feel they wouldn’t understand. In this series it seems that Summer and her family have been put there, instead of being in a more normal context where you go out and there are black people, white people, Latinos and so on. Obviously it varies from place to place, but you can find different people in a place by the sea. At least when I go to the beach I see everything. It’s not very realistic, so the last thing I expect is that they can deal with light-skin, dark-skin issues. But it’s a positive thing, there has never been such a representation on TV. I remember when I was growing up the only black women I saw on TV were the Black Cat [Ainett Stephens, a black showgirl starring in Il Mercante in Fiera, an Italian tv programme] and other stereotypical, racist representations. So, compared to those images, I would say ‘Wow, it makes sense’. I hope that over time this step will fuel a more consistent growth, and that one day we will have a black director, a black crew, and a cast of white people and black people, and black actors that speak in different Italian dialects. There are still lots of things to fix.

What characters did you like the most, other than Summer?

I liked her younger sister, and I really liked Edo, her best friend, because he’s my type of guy. He’s a bit like me: a little shy and nerdy. I follow all of them on Instagram. Even if it’s a teen drama and I’m older than the target the series is addressed to, I liked it overall.

How does it feel to know that an Italian series of this kind is having a lot of success in many countries?

I am very happy and I am sure we are heading in the right direction: innovation, change, inclusion. People like it, and perhaps it shows that this alternative way to work is the right one.

If a second season came out, would you watch it? What advice would you give to the screenwriters?

Yes, absolutely, but I would put more culture in. I would suggest hiring, including black screenwriters to have different inputs, or at least to allow who sees the series to empathise more with Summer, to show more layers of her character. In the series there’s only the question ‘Where are you from?’. We need a little more than that, though I think their thinking process was: ‘What do we focus on?’

Mina, 22, Italian-Bukinabeé, studies drama. Cult series: Ugly Duckling, Gossip Girl
griot mag summertime mina yabre_intervista johanne affricot
GRIOT: What did you like in
Summertime and what do you think it’s missing?

I really liked the film photography and the soundtrack. I don’t like teen dramas that much, I watched it out of curiosity, because the co-star is signed to my same talent agency and because the main role is played by a black girl. As for the things I didn’t like, I expected a better performance by some actors, but being a teen drama designed for a young audience, I don’t feel like saying what it should have been. I would have preferred an in-depth look of other characters and more episodes rather than just eight. I would have also liked to have some insight into Summer’s father story and his relationship with the mother, because I didn’t get much about their relationship, if it’s been over for years, if they really love each other or not.

The series doesn’t show much about her cultural background. Is it something that you felt was missing?

I must confess that I was delighted that Summer’s origins weren’t stressed too much, because very often, also in Italy, when a character in a TV series is of a different ethnic background, there are too many stereotypes surrounding them. In this series Summer hasn’t been relegated to a cliché, she is a mixed-race girl who lives her life, finds love, has her family problems. That’s it. I really appreciated it. I would have certainly loved to learn more about her roots. It might happen in a second season.

If a dark-skinned girl had been cast for the series, do you think she would have got the leading role?

Good question. Maybe, maybe not. What I know for sure is that they weren’t specifically looking for a mixed-race person. I believe Summer’s ethnicity was pretty generic, but I don’t know, I can’t be sure.

I really liked Sofia’s character and the way she explicitly lives her homosexuality. What do you think?

I liked it too. She is not ashamed of her sexuality, she lives her life normally, without any conflict. At the beginning of the series I thought she was trying to hide her sexual orientation but she wasn’t. I also liked her in the role of the friend, she is always present for Dario.

What characters did you like the most, other than Summer?

I loved Blue because she is very sweet. She’s often overshadowed by her older sister, but among all the characters of the series she is the one who conveys the deepest sweetness and tenderness.

How does it feel to know that an Italian series of this kind, with a black woman as the protagonist, is earning a lot of success in many countries?

I am very pleased that an Italian series is getting some visibility around the world, showing that Italy is able to create good products.

If a second season came out, would you watch it? What advice would you give to the screenwriters?

I would develop each character’s personality more, I will build more dialogues, I would focus more on the communication between Summer and her friends. Often the characters behave incomprehensibly. Despite being a teen drama, I don’t see how a girl can kiss her (male) best friend and keep it from her other (female) best friend and then disappear.

Loredane, 27, Italian-Congolese, sales assistant. Cult series: Skins, Misfits
griot mag summertime -netflix_loredane_johanne affricot
GRIOT: What did you like in
Summertime and what do you think it’s missing?

Despite being 27, I love teen dramas. What I liked the most about this series was they actually tried. I really liked the fact that the main protagonist was not a blonde blue-eyed girl, but a black girl. She represents one side of Italy and her representation came with no drama: this is Summer, she lives here. That’s it.

The series itself features beautiful film photography, it’s very summery, colourful. But other than presenting Summer as an ordinary girl, the series lacked the courage to dare; it lacked the courage to make her say something more, like that there are many other girls and boys like her, and to make her tell a story that is different from other stories because not everyone has gone through certain experiences—a story worth telling. Some stories are different but that doesn’t mean they are absurd or distant from reality, quite the opposite. You can be surrounded by classmates who have different stories and it’s something that teenagers can easily understand. It might be more difficult for the forty-year-olds, but if we start from the younger generations and tell a story without putting too much emphasis on drama or patriotism, maybe we can get there. They could have done it and it’s a pity they missed the chance.

If a dark-skinned girl had been cast for the series, do you think she would have got the leading role?

Probably not. Sadly, we are still living in a time where it’s easier and more convenient to cast a light-skinned girl like Coco, and I’m not criticizing her, but I think that seeing a dark-skinned girl on screen triggers questions among viewers because they are not used to seeing that type of representation, starting from our hair, clothes and bodies. We are never represented and normalised like other groups.

We are oversexualized, so when it comes to showing a black woman’s body—like it was done with the black showgirl Ainett Stephens—is fine. There is still not much space for us. Tezeta Abraham played a more interesting role in another Italian TV series a few years ago and Alberto Malanchino has recently co-starred in a medical drama series. We are moving forward, but there are still a lot of stereotypes, and the choice of Coco as the protagonist was the most comfortable choice.

What characters did you like the most, other than Summer?

I really liked Blue, her younger sister. I liked Dario for his performance, I was really engaged in the scenes where he was present. I also enjoyed Tersigni, whom I had already seen in Skam Italia. Overall, beyond the single characters, I didn’t find the series very engaging. The dialogues seemed a little bit disconnected, and a lot of what the characters could have said was left to the music, which is amazing, there is a lot of pop music, but I would have preferred a little less music and more dialogues.

If a second season came out, would you watch it? What advice would you give to the screenwriters?

I would watch it, just to see what they decided to improve, but I would give it a three-episode trial. As for the advice, I would suggest to the production to dare a little more, you have a huge opportunity. Those who watch the series are young, and if you make them understand the right things, they will not even look at certain [negative] characters when they’re in their twenties.

How does it feel to know that an Italian series of this kind is having a lot of success in many countries?

Obviously, I am proud of it, it’s the first step and not everyone has done it. So, knowing that there is an Italian series in the world with a black leading actress, which they do not even dream of producing in other States makes me feel proud. But to the production team: dare more!

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Johanne Affricot

Johanne Affricot

Visual and performing arts, culture and music, traveling. I could just live on this. Curiosity is my daily bread. With a love for food, do not ever try to take the last bite off my plate: I could bite back.