Separating The Fact From Fiction In Amazon’s ZeroZeroZero

Photo: Courtesy of Amazon Studios.
Netflix has Narcos, and now Amazon Prime Video has ZeroZeroZero: its own gritty series chronicling the worldwide implications of the cocaine trade. Like many series that have come before it, ZeroZeroZero is based on plenty of real-life material — particularly the book of the same name by Italian journalist Roberto Saviano.
Filmed in Italy, Mexico, Senegal, Morocco, and the U.S., the series follows the journey of a massive $60 million cocaine shipment from production to delivery through the eyes of the sellers (the Mexican cartel producing the drug), the brokers (a New Orleans shipping family transporting the coke), and the buyers (the Italian mafia purchasing the shipment). The international cast features Andrea Riseborough, Dane DeHaan, and Gabriel Byrne as the American family handling the transport, plus actors from Italy (Adriano Chiaramida, Giuseppe De Domenico), Mexico (Harold Torres), and France (Tchéky Karyo, Seydina Baldé).
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ZeroZeroZero is Saviano's second major work and second to be adapted — his first book, Gomorrah, chronicled the business of the Neapolitan crime organization Camorra. Its impact was so huge in exposing the Mafia-like group that it put Saviano on their hit list, and the author has been under special protection since 2006. (A series based on that novel premiered on SundanceTV in 2016, and has run for four seasons.)
But ZeroZeroZero is more global in scale: As shown in the series when a ship nearly sinks off the coast of Senegal, more countries are affected by the cocaine trade than just the sellers and the buyers. Its sub-title reads, "Look at Cocaine and All You See Is Powder. Look Through Cocaine and You See the World."
Saviano tracks the ever-growing web of cocaine kingpins throughout his book, per NPR, including Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman from Mexico and Semion Mogilevich from Russia. The book also explains the sheer breadth of the cocaine industry, demonstrating that even the loss of a huge shipment can't cripple the trade when compared to the incredibly high demand for the drug.
ZeroZeroZero takes its name from the purest form of pasta flour, 000, which, per Saviano's publisher Penguin Random House, is "the nickname among narcotraffickers for the purest cocaine on the market." Living with 24/7 police protection has put Saviano in contact with law enforcement officers around the world, giving him access to global agencies that deal with the drug trade as well as the "complex money-laundering operations that allow it to function."
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None of the characters in the series, however, are real-life figures. They're inspired by the real-life people Saviano describes, but showrunner Stefano Sollima told the Wall Street Journal that they are not 1:1 translations.
"We took inspiration for most of the characters from real-life people but I don’t think audiences will be able to recognize who they are," he said, adding that the Lynwood shipping family from the series has no real-life inspiration.
Another major difference: While the book argues for the legalization of cocaine, the series doesn't take a position either way.
"I don’t feel that a TV show or a movie is a place where you should get political. When you’re dealing with a really complex matter like this one I think it’s better to ask smart questions than give unhelpful answers. It’s up to the audience to have its own point of view on this topic," Sollima told the WSJ.
Ultimately, though, the book and show both focus on how big of an impact the cocaine trade has on all economies around the world.
"You see every single step, from where it’s resourced, its travel all over the world, every individual who makes money or dies because of it, all the way to some Upper East Side bar," Riseborough told Entertainment Weekly of the series. "It’s mind-blowing to imagine this powder that so many people have access to, where it’s been and who it’s been touched by. I thought I had an idea of what it would be like, but I really didn’t. The number of families, children, people all over the world who are affected by the cargo of this substance is astounding."
ZeroZeroZero is available to stream on Amazon.
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