A Zambian singer with albinism serves as an inspiration for a TV series on Netflix

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In a scene from Netflix’s latest drama, “Can You See Us?”, the main character, Joseph, endures a harrowing assault by a group of men who restrain him and viciously attack his leg with a knife. The TV series narrates Joseph’s journey—a boy born with albinism, rejected by his father at birth, who later rises to fame as a singer. This gripping drama is based on the remarkable life of John Chiti.

John Chiti, the real-life individual upon whom Joseph’s character is based, survived this brutal attack targeting his body parts. Through hard work, he managed to transform his life through music, becoming one of Zambia’s biggest stars. His remarkable story has served as the inspiration for this compelling new drama series on Netflix.

John Chiti recalls this traumatic incident. It occurred when he was just 15 years old, walking home with a friend after a game of football. The attackers had been monitoring his movements for some time. Chiti cried out for help, and passers-by heard his cries and came to his rescue. Chiti’s real-life story is one of overcoming familial rejection and discrimination to achieve success as a musician in Zambia. He is one of approximately 25,000 people in the country living with albinism, a condition characterized by a lack of pigmentation in the skin, hair, and eyes, often leading to poor vision and an increased risk of skin cancer.

Tragically, some believe that body parts of individuals with albinism can possess mystical powers, capable of warding off ancestral curses and curing various ailments, from male impotence to poverty. Consequently, people with albinism are often targeted using extreme violence, with some experiencing horrific amputations. In fact, the UN human rights office reported receiving information about 600 attacks against people with albinism.

Chiti’s father separated from his mother shortly after his birth. He only met his father when he was sent to live with him at the age of eight following his mother’s death. His father had remarried, and Chiti struggled to fit into his new family. After enduring numerous challenges at home, he was sent to a boarding school, an experience he believes saved him. During a holiday visit to his neighbourhood, a man overheard him singing and complimented his voice, becoming the first person to recognize his talent and encourage him to pursue music.

Later, Chiti learned to play the guitar and join a band. He began performing at gigs after moving to Lusaka, the capital, and at the age of 17, he recorded his first song. Eventually, he produced five solo albums, achieving widespread recognition in Zambia and shedding the label of an outsider.

In addition to his music career, Chiti founded the Albinism Foundation of Zambia in 2008, an organisation dedicated to supporting individuals with albinism and advocating for their rights. Chiti is optimistic that the government will work to improve the situation for individuals with albinism, particularly in rural areas where challenges persist.

The response to “Can You See Us?” has been overwhelming, with many viewers expressing their emotional reactions to Chiti’s story. Politicians, musicians, comedians, and celebrities from across Africa have shared the series on social media.

Chiti said that he didn’t expect these overwhelming responses, but he is really happy that this happened, and that more people are learning about Zambia.

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