Black women experience epic love stories. It may not seem that way based on what the media says and how often Hollywood ignores the romantic lives of Black women, but like everyone else, we have moments that sweep us off of our feet and take our breath away. Writer/producer Attica Locke has always known the importance of seeing all facets of Black women’s lives on-screen, especially as leading ladies. Therefore, the Little Fires Everywhere writer learned that her sister, Tembi Locke, was penning her memoir, From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home, about her epic love story; Attica knew that it also needed to come to life on screen.
Before Tembi even finished penning the novel, Attica pitched the film to Hello Sunshine — Reese Witherspoon’s production company. “I literally pitched my sister’s entire book in one sitting and said, ‘You have to read it,'” the From Scratch showrunner told Shadow and Act. “[Hello Sunshine President Lauren Neustadter] went, ‘Okay.’ She was a little dubious like, ‘Your sister wrote a book?’ But they read it, and within a week, we were in their office just talking about ‘How are we going to do this?'”
At the time, the From Scratch manuscript was still a word document full of typos, but Attica knew the richness of the story, even if Tembi didn’t see it just yet. “She drove us off the cliff,” the From Scratch author recalled. “That’s Attica’s stewardship — with the depth and breadth of years of writing television and novels. She really could see where we needed to arc, where we needed to bend.”
Those initial meetings and phone calls evolved into Netflix‘s newest limited series, From Scratch. The sweeping love story opens in 2000 in Italy. It follows Amahle “Amy” Wheeler (played by Zoe Saldaña), a young woman who takes a break from law school to pursue her passion; art. She doesn’t expect to fall for a Sicilian chef named Lino (Eugenio Mastrandrea), who will transform her life forever.
Together, Amy and Lino embark on a romance for the ages that spans time and continents. However, Lino’s unexpected health crisis threatens to shatter their planned future.
Since From Scratch is based on Tembi’s life, the audience needed to experience things unfold as she and Amy did. “We knew we needed to tell it in a linear fashion, not mosaic,” she explained. “That was one of the first decisions we made because we felt that if we were going to ask the audience to go into deep grief, to go into hard places, we didn’t want them to get lost in time and space by switching up.”
Once the story was set in stone, Attica and Tembi knew that the right actress was a vital piece to telling this story.
Like Attica’s off-the-cuff pitch, casting Zoe Saldaña as Amy was also a sweet happenstance. “It was Lauren calling me to say, ‘Attica, Reese had dinner with Zoe, and Zoe was there with her husband, who’s Italian,” Attica remembered. ‘I didn’t know that. She speaks Italian. Zoe, on screen, there is this sweet spot of tenderness and strength that felt like the character, Amy. I discovered things about her in the process.”
The sisters were off to the races with Saldaña on board as the star and as an executive producer. Tembi felt assured in the team she and Attica had built around them, especially when retelling some of the most vulnerable moments of her life.
“Zoe and I had lots of talks about things, so I felt very confident,” she explained. “By the time we would get on set, I was like, ‘Okay, this scene is in good hands.’ There were times when it was too much. It was a lot to relive. Some scenes are literally frame-by-frame recreations of things that happened. There’s a delicate balance, but I also had Attica there to say, ‘You don’t need to be here today. Go home.'”
Still reliving some of the most intimate moments of her life also solidified for Tembi how important From Scratch is. “The rain scene, that’s where it actually happened, the same block. It’s the same corner,” she said. “When we got to Italy, that was happening over and over and over again both in Florence and later when we went to Sicily, these coincidences, non-coincidences, were sort of miraculous.”
Making From Scratch evolved into more than a reflection on Tembi’s lived experiences, the characters on the screen, or even the bond the sisters share. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Attica said. “I don’t know, even in the courts of this lifetime, if I will be able to express how powerful of an experience it was to be driven by something that was just pure love. Pure love got me through all the tension and stress. It was a true labor of love. It was love for my sister. It was love for my brother-in-law. It was love for my niece. Tembi wrote what she wanted to read. We were making what we wanted to see. We wanted to see our version of Black Texas, our humor. We were doing something vanguard and new.”
Netflix’s eight-episode limited series From Scratch will premiere Oct. 21.