Netflix’s Tinny Andreatta & Writer Francesca Manieri On Why Porn Star Drama ‘Supersex’ Speaks To Modern Masculinity & The Streamer’s Italian Slate

EXCLUSIVE: It was on the set of Sky and HBO’s We Are Who We Are that Lorenzo Mieli asked Francesca Manieri, a screenwriter known for crafting stories about female empowerment, to pen a TV series about Rocco Siffredi, the infamous hardcore porn star. Initially, she could barely believe it. “I laughed,” she recalls. “I was sure he was joking.”

Only he wasn’t, and after a week of deliberation, she said yes, having realized it would give her the chance to explore “the core of contemporary masculinity.”

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Manieri — known for films such as Rose Island, Italian Race, The First King and The Miracle and as co-writer of We Are Who We Are — went away and drew up her plan for a series that would allow her to “turn the tables” on the narratives men have dictated to women for, well, probably ever: a series about what porn represents and how modern masculinity is constructed.

She chose to tell an intimate, surprisingly warm, character-driven coming-of-age story exploring the male super-ego. It would follow Siffredi, with whom she has formed an unlikely bond of “opposites,” through his younger years as he formed dual personalities — one for the cold world of filmed sex and the other for the warmth he desired from his personal and family life.

“That was my dramatological plan,” says Manieri. “I went back to my producer, Lorenzo, and said that we were not going to be making Boogie Nights.”

The result will debut tomorrow on Netflix globally. Supersex is a co-production between Fremantle-owned The Apartment, the Italian indie Mieli recently exited to form a new production house with Mario Gianani, and Banijay’s Groenlandia, with Alessandro Borghi playing Siffredi, who is known for his rough sex scenes and domineering on-screen personality.

The series has been heavily promoted as Netflix’s big European originals bet for the start of 2024 and recently debuted at the Berlin Film Festival last month.

Rocco Siffredi (second left) at the Berlinale Palast in February at the Berlin Film Festival, where ‘Supersex’ launched
Rocco Siffredi (second left) at the Berlinale Palast in February at the Berlin Film Festival, where ‘Supersex’ launched

It was Mieli and Manieri’s dream to place the show on the streamer (“I always thought Netflix is the house of this project, says Manieri), and luckily for them, Netflix’s Vice President of Italian Originals Eleanora ‘Tinny’ Andreatta agreed. In fact, she had been tracking the project for years: Mieli had first informed her of the project when she was still running drama at Italian pubcaster Rai.

“The reason why we wanted to do it so much is at Netflix is we want to find courageous, authentic stories with Italian production,” says Andreatta in an exclusive interview. “It’s a story only Netflix could do, and it breaks taboos. It responds completely to what we are looking for.”

She praises Manieri for a series “that creates a reflection on the central role of sex and the imagination of sexuality in contemporary Europe.” Given that the story is set primarily in the 1980s and 1990s, when pornography was often the domain of dimly-lit cinemas, the production had fulfil one of Andreatta’s core demands — to “create a story for today that is not set today.”

Lorenzo Mieli and Francesca Manieri at the 74th Berlinale International Film Festival Berlin last month
Lorenzo Mieli and Francesca Manieri at the 74th Berlinale International Film Festival Berlin last month

Both Manieri and Andreatta say success for the limited series, beyond views, is creating a debate around what modern Western sexuality is in an era where gender identity is the hot-button topic and online pornography is widely available. Andreatta expects some to love the series and others to hate it, but says simply “affording time” to the topic is a victory. She hopes most will see it as a study of growing up, family relationships and the desire to be loved.

Creating a new image of Italy

Since Andreatta joined Netflix in 2020, she has focused on building a slate of shows that, like Supersex, provide fresh perceptions of Italy. She notes that during the golden age of Italian cinema in the 1960s, when Rossellini, Fellini and Pasolini were at their peak, certain tropes and images became associated with the country. To an extent, they continue to exist today and this isn’t always helpful when trying to form new ideas.

For Netflix, which has a young core demographic in Italy, the need to tell stories and reflect trends from a newer world is vital, despite the filmmaking tradition, believes Andreatta. That can be seen in Supersex, but also in films such as Il Treno dei Bambini, a retelling of Viola Ardone’s bestselling novel set in post-war Italy seen through the eyes of a child torn between two mothers.

“We have always had a broad, young audience, so we place particular importance on giving them authentic storytelling embracing their point of view,” says Andreatta, pointing to the second season of Everything Calls For Salvation, which is about a troubled young man who is forced to spend a week in a mental hospital, only to find friendship and love from his fellow patients, as an example.

In 2022, Andreatta told an audience at Rome’s MIA Market that the country had been starved of characters such as the “imperfect hero to the rough hero” and called for more anti-heroes and larger-than-life characters. Shows hitting that brief include Supersex, Everything Calls… and The Law According to Lidia Poët, the latter of which also fulfils another requirement: telling stories about “complex, irreverent and extraordinary female characters, portraying them with their defects and shadows,” as Andreatta puts it.

Federico Cesari in ‘Everything Calls For Salvation’
Federico Cesari in ‘Everything Calls For Salvation’

A final string to the bow: shows that explore what families look like in the modern era can be seen in the Tom Shankland-directed limited series The Leopard, which is based on Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s classic novel about the Prince of Salina and his family in 1860s Sicily. Deva Cassel — daughter of Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci — is among the leads, playing Angelica Sedara, while Kim Rossi Stuart will play Don Fabrizio Corbera, the Prince of Salina.

“If we bring to life timeless, historical figures, we can talk about the past to talk about the present,” says Andreatta, who is always good for a clever turn of phrase.

On the unscripted front, a local remake of Rhythm + Flow has become a tentpole title. It sees Italian rappers Fabri Fibra, Geolier and Rose Villain hit the streets to find aspiring rappers who can make their mark on the local scene. Andreatta notes that with the judges hailing from Naples, Rome and Milan, Italians from all sides of the country are represented — another key strategy for growing Netflix’s local subs base.

For Andreatta, and Netflix Italy, an originals slate strongly reflective of the modern, local world is part of a push into a key territory for the streamer. Having launched an office in Rome in 2022, it has grown to become Italy’s top streaming service, with reports last year pegging subs at around nine million. This is no mean feat in a country where Prime Video, Paramount+ and Disney+ are fighting hard, Sky Italia is a veteran player and public service streamer Rai Play continues to gain plaudits.

With Netflix still in the position to fully fund content locally, co-productions are not on the horizon, but a strategy of buying second window rights on Italian shows, sometimes capturing audiences traditional TV homes cannot not provide, will continue. It has most notably done this on Rai coming-of-age crime drama hit The Sea Beyond — a show Andreatta had championed while at the public broadcaster.

The Sea Beyond on MHz Choice
‘The Sea Beyond’

“The first ratings results on Rai were quite small, but in the mean time, I had started to work for Netflix, so we bought the second-window rights and brought it to success,” she says. “The success is, of course, mutual, so we gave that success back to Netflix. Netflix allowed the right audience to reach the title.”

The same strategy is being employed on “several” other titles, though she won’t confirm if Netflix plans to buy the second window to young adult period drama Bel Canto. We reported in Janaury that a deal was likely, with sources close to the show saying Netflix was in line to strike a deal with Rai. We do know Netflix will lean more heavily into pay-one windows for Italian theatrical releases — showing willing to spend on cinema titles in exchange for the post-theatrical rights. Andreatta says: “Being a partner of this industry is very important.”

In 2022, local content rules were updated to ensure streamers provide recent European works and Italian originals in their libraries, something Netflix has responded to positively. Quizzed on her views on government regulation, Andreatta says: “For us the important part is to have rules that are fair, predicable and allow for innovation. Netflix is brave about creative freedom and that’s something we don’t give up.

“But we know the creative community and the government believe in the importance of the media sector. Sometimes it’s about taking time to find rules that really position every player in same condition to do their best.”

More broadly, Andreatta, a popular figure among Italy’s production community, sees the her slate as part of the Los Gatos-based Netflix’s wider ambitions. “We perceive our Italian offer as complementary to our global offer,” says Andreatta. “We want to do with local output is to create conversation with our audience. I don’t see our slate as single titles, but in a holistic way, made up of different verticals.

“Each story is a piece of the mosaic.”

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