On From Scratch, Grief, Joy & The Love Black Women Deserve

Photo: courtesy of Netflix.
You can’t go a day on Beyoncé’s internet without reading a variation of this take: “We’re tired of Black trauma stories! Why do Black people always have to be suffering onscreen?” Aside from the fact that it’s simply untrue that the only Black stories on film and TV are traumatic (some recent examples to dispel this myth: Rap Sh!t, Flatbush Misdemeanors, Everything’s Trash, Abbott Elementary, I could go on), it’s also unfair to Black storytellers to dismiss their work solely because it may be a bit sad or deal with heavy subject matter. On the surface, Netflix’s new series From Scratch is a sweet love story, but really it’s a devastating tale of grief and loss. and that’s perfectly OK — because above all, it’s about the love that Black women deserve. 
It would be easy to dismiss the series as another addition to the Traumatic Black Stories™ canon (which, again, is a lot smaller than Twitter suggests), but as much as From Scratch is about suffering loss and gut-wrenching heartbreak, it also explores the joy of falling in love — the kind of real love that is so all consuming and so deep that the thought of losing it is unimaginable. As we watch Zoe Saldana (playing Amy, a character based on writer Tembi Locke, the series is adapted from her memoir of the same name) move to Italy, meet and fall for Lino (the magnetic and instantly likable Eugenio Mastrandea), we’re drawn into the depth of their courtship — Lino’s infatuation with Amy and her general disinterest which turns into sweeping romance — and the butterfly-inducing rush of true love, something that actually is rare to see onscreen for Black women. 

I believe that all Black women deserve a comfortable kind of love, a safe place to land when the world is on its bullshit. That’s the kind of love Lino gives to Amy. 

When screeners for From Scratch hit my Netflix account weeks ago, I was excited to dive in because I am all about watching Black women find love. It’s my pop-culture kink. The logline goes like this: “An artist finds romance with a chef in Italy and embarks on a life-changing journey of love, loss, resilience and hope across cultures and continents,” and it had me hooked immediately. “Resilience” isn’t necessarily a word that I love to associate with romance; when we’re constantly struggling to survive, when we’re fighting back against Strong Black Woman tropes and longing for softness and ease, please don’t make us be resilient in romance. I’m a firm believer that our love lives should be peaceful and secure, sturdy and calm, the path of least resistance. I believe that all Black women deserve a comfortable kind of love, a safe place to land when the world is on its bullshit. That’s the kind of love Lino gives to Amy. 
Photo: courtesy of Netflix.
When we meet the pair, they have yet to become lovers. Amy is taking time away from law school to pursue studying art in Florence. She’s wide-eyed, passionate, and not looking for anything serious. (Saldana and her problematic past made me hesitant at first, but her fluent Italian and the talent that’s been there since Center Stage shines through making her a lead you can’t help but root for.) She starts dating a wealthy local f*ckboy named Giancarlo (former Grey’s Anatomy star Giacomo Gianniotti), and even though there are instant sparks with Lino, she relegates him to the friend zone. Their chemistry is palpable (bring back romance leads actually having chemistry!) and eventually, even Amy can’t ignore it. The love triangle gets tense and dramatic (of course), and the fact that it’s a Black woman being chased and courted by two strapping Italian men is fun to watch.
Sure, I have notes on how so many Netflix love stories starring women of color have white leading men (Never Have I Ever, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, almost every rom-com starring Kat Graham and Christina Milian, etc) and why the intricacies of their interracial relationships are never explored, but I also know better than to expect thoughtful examinations of the nuance of that dynamic or to hope for the prioritisation of Black love onscreen – especially from Netflix. Sometimes, you take what you can get, and From Scratch’s rooted-in-reality premise and charming performances actually make up for most of its shortcomings. There’s also something to be said about the series choosing to skirt the unfortunate detail that in real life, Locke’s in-laws, her late husband Saro Gullo’s parents, didn’t approve of her because she’s Black and American. Leaving out the fact that racism played a key part in their love story probably seemed like a way for the creators (the showrunner is Locke’s sister Attica Locke) to avoid the Traumatic Black Story™ tag. Instead, it lets Lino’s family off the hook by ignoring the hard realities that many interracial couples face when their families’ respective cultures clash. 
Some of the series strongest moments come from Amy’s sister Zora (the always formidable Danielle Deadwyler), her Black love story (that doesn’t get enough screen time), and the complicated family drama involving their eccentric mum (Kellita Smith), overbearing dad (Keith David) and well-meaning stepmother (Judith Scott). Their loud, loveable, messy, and sometimes frustrating Southern — and very Black — dynamic is the soul of the series, and along with Lino’s health, that storyline takes the series from a saccharine fairytale to a complex family drama. Come for the romance, stay for the family dinner scenes that will make you cringe with recognition and laugh from the absurdity. 

From Scratch isn’t just all love scenes and sweet moments, and it isn’t just a horrifying inspection of a debilitating disease and the trauma it inflicts on its victims and their loved ones. This series exists somewhere in between, in the quiet moments where grief and joy coexist.

Amy and Lino’s love story is just as relatable and intricate. As they fall in love and take their romance from Florence back to the U.S., they are forced to deal with the complications that come with one partner moving across the world for another. Together, Saldana and Mastrandea are mesmerising, even when the timeline gets a little wonky, and we have to suspend our disbelief to believe them as 20-something kids in Florence. In each scene, they let us in on the journey of their love, and it’s like we’re watching intimate home videos that leaked accidentally. Saldana reminds us why she’s decades into a successful career (in spite of her questionable choices), and Mastrandea is a revelation of vulnerability, sensitivity, and strength – the picture of a man losing his body while trying to cling to his masculinity. We watch the couple dig deep into their relationship, equal parts passion and pain, while Lino tries to find his footing as a chef in a foreign country (the food porn throughout the series is *chef’s kiss*). 
From Scratch isn’t just all love scenes (which are also worth sending compliments to the chef) and sweet Hallmark movie moments, and it isn’t just a horrifying inspection of a debilitating disease and the trauma it inflicts on its victims and their loved ones. This series exists somewhere in between, in the quiet moments where grief and joy coexist, like when Amy is watching the love of her life care for their daughter knowing he could succumb to his horrible illness at any point. It is not an easy romantic watch, like the thumbnail on your Netflix home screen may suggest, but it’s really beautiful, thoughtful, and soothing. 
Like Lino, my cousin has cancer. Those four words have been hard to process. She’s always been the best of our family; the kindest soul in a sea of brash Bremangs, the nice one in a pile of narcissistic Newmans. She’s the person whose smile lit up my childhood and whose selflessness is the greatest lesson I’ve taken with me as I grew up. She lives across the country now, and I went to visit her a few days after I finished watching From Scratch. The show ripped my heart out and sucked all the tears from their ducts, but it also made me better equipped to be there for my cousin. Like Amy, I watched her receive the love she deserves; her husband is doting and present, a steadfast anchor in the storm of an exhausting illness. She has that comfortable kind of love I wish for all Black women, and so, instead of filling our visit with tears and bracing for trauma, I reveled in the joy of love, and relief of family bonds and safe spaces. In grief, we built more memories full of happiness and solace, like the warmth that comes with a big bowl of pasta — and those moments were made, well, from scratch.

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