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Netflix Unveils Italian Original ‘Baby,’ Based on Real-Life Teen Prostitution Scandal

At a preview Tuesday of “Baby,” its second Italian original scripted series, Netflix was eager to defuse the controversy over the show’s storyline, which involves teen prostitution and takes its cue from a real-life scandal in Rome.

Andrea De Sica (“Children of the Night”), one of the show’s two directors, called it “the story of how a group of youths can embark on an adventure in the labyrinths of transgression, at times even getting lost.” The series bows on Netflix globally on Friday.

“We tried to be as faithful as possible to their conflicts and their choices,” De Sica told reporters at a screening of two “Baby” episodes. He added that “what you’ve seen is not a chronicle of real life events” and “it’s up to you to draw your conclusions.”

The show is loosely based on the discovery in 2014 that two high school girls from Rome’s wealthy residential Parioli district were selling sex in order to buy designer clothes and electronic gadgets. Five people, including the mothers of both young women, were arrested at the time.

Since the announcement of “Baby” a year ago, Netflix has come under fire from such organizations as the U.S.-based National Center on Sexual Exploitation for glamorizing underage prostitution.

One of the screenwriters, Re Salvador, acknowledged that they took their cue from the real-life “Baby Squillo” scandal, but insisted that “it’s still a story about love, not prostitution.” The show’s other director, Anna Negri (“Good Morning Heartache”), said that one of her tasks was “to bring a female gaze” to “Baby” but that her emotional connection to the material “wasn’t just the feminine aspect.”

The two episodes shown to journalists Tuesday did not feature any scenes of prostitution. But it was clear that the narrative was building up to just that, along with other dubious behavior by the nihilistic, social media-crazed Roman rich kids played by its young ensemble cast, led by Benedetta Porcaroli and Alice Pagani. The show runs to six parts, though it was originally announced as an eight-episode series.

Netflix Vice President of International Originals Kelly Luegenbiehl said that the target audience for “Baby” is the young-adult crowd. “The first thing that we are always looking for is authenticity, and this show has that,” she said.

The screenwriters, including Salvador, belong to a collective called the Grams. Producer Nicola De Angelis said the young writers were crucial to getting “Baby” greenlit by Netflix. As for teen prostitution being a hot potato, De Angelis noted that “Baby” was announced “at the worse possible time, when anything associated with sexual harassment was a problem.” 

But he said that Netflix’s response was: “Go forward. We believe in this product. We believe that this generation needs to be depicted in the most natural and authentic way….There was some turmoil, but we got through it because we always had their strong support.”

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