The 70s was the decade that South Bronx became the poster child for urban decline. It’s when Howard Cosell, during the 1977 World Series at Yankee Stadium told the world, “Ladies and gentlemen, The Bronx is burning,” It was the decade that our borough lost over 20% of its population (more than 300,000 had fled) — most of it concentrated in The South Bronx.
Now, coming in 2016, a new Netflix series called ‘The Get Down’ will focus on a group of teenagers during that tumultuous era and the creativity that blossomed during those days giving way to hip-hop in all its forms from the music, to the dance, the graffiti artists and much more.
‘The Get Down’ is the creation of Shawn Ryan (creator of The Shield and The Chicago Code) and Baz Luhrmann who is known for such films like ‘Strictly Ballroom’, ‘Moulin Rouge’ and most recently, ‘The Great Gatsby’.
“The hour-long drama will be set in 1970s New York City and focus on a rag-tag crew of South Bronx teenagers with no one to shelter them – except each other, armed only with verbal games, improvised dance steps, some magic markers and spray cans.
Traveling from Bronx tenements to the SoHo art scene, from CBGBs to Studio 54 and the just-built World Trade Center, The Get Down promises “a mythic saga of how New York at the brink of bankruptcy gave birth to hip-hop, punk and disco — told through the lives and music of the South Bronx kids who changed the city, and the world… forever.”
“The Sony Pictures TV project is set in New York City in the late 1970s amid the explosion of hip-hop, punk and other innovative music and art that coincided with a surge in crime, violence and urban decay. “Get Down” focuses on a group of crafty teenagers from one of the hardest hit areas, the South Bronx.
Luhrmann said he’s been working on the concept for the series for 10 years. Netflix’s commercial-free environment and reputation for giving creatives wide berth in storytelling made it a natural home for “Get Down,” he said.
“I’ve been obsessed with the idea of how a city in its lowest moment, forgotten and half destroyed, could give birth to such creativity and originality in music, art and culture,” he said. “I’m thrilled to be working with my partners at Sony and collaborating with a team of extraordinary writers and musicians, many of whom grew up with and lived the story we’ve set out to tell.”
“Baz conjures worlds we may not recognize initially, but once there, realize they are infused with the same dreams of every person — to belong, to matter, to live life to its fullest,” Holland said. “We are thrilled to support Baz, Catherine and Paul and their team in their quest to illuminate those same dreams through the artists who came of age in the cauldron of the Bronx in the late 1970s.”
Although Netflix may be the first to produce a series about that era, they (along with Luhrmann and Ryan) are not the first to tell that story. With so many talented filmmakers in The Bronx and from The Bronx, I’m not sure how I feel about outsiders, yet again, controlling our narrative (look at the disaster that was Fort Apache).
Bronx born and bred photographers, like the collective known as Seis del Sur (consisting of six Nuyrican photographers Joe Conzo, Jr, Ángel Franco, Ricky Flores, David Gonzalez, Edwin Pagán, Francisco Molina Reyes II), documented this era heavily. So much so that when they came together for their first exhibition two years ago at The Bronx Documentary Center, thousands upon thousands of people from all walks of life descended on the South Bronx to view this landmark work.
For the first time, the story of the South Bronx during those decades was told by our own people through their own eyes.
“We know that the South Bronx has had a profound impact on world culture. Through the distortion of time our experience, the brutality of it, somehow has canonize our people into legend”, said Ricky Flores, of Seis del Sur, when asked about ‘The Get Down’. “The problem with that is that it minimizes that experience and doesn’t take into account how that era still affects our community” added Flores.
And that is a recurring theme when the story of The Bronx and The South Bronx is told. Often times so much is left out that we’re left with either glitz and glamour or doom and gloom that ignores humanity of those years.
Edwin Pagán, also from Seis Del Sur and director of ‘Bronx Burning’ said of the upcoming Netflix series, “Baz Luhrmann has shown a strong propensity for entertaining musical ensemble films, but New South Wales, Australia is a long way from the South Bronx. Let’s hope the forthcoming Netflix series shows the people of the South Bronx as full-dimensional human beings and not merely caricatures that only serve as maligned dramatic plot points. If that is the case, Netflix and Luhrmann will hear from the community and those who stand with it. So far the teaser doesn’t look too promising. At this point, it’s wait and see; Netflix can still surprise us with great and balanced entertainment.”
From among this collective of photographers, it was Joe Conzo, Jr that was at the center of this creativity that was flourishing in the South Bronx.
Long before Seis del Sur coalesced into the collective that they are today and even before some knew each other, David Gonzalez of the New York Times (and of course, Seis del Sur) called Conzo, “The Man Who Took Hip-Hop’s Baby Pictures” in an article by the same title and wrote, “Despite whatever personal crises he was fighting – and despite the devastation that was sweeping over the borough during those years – his photographs exude a tender, almost innocent love for the music and streets of his boyhood. During the days of furry Kangol caps, fat laces and white-gloved b-boys, he was never far, snapping away in the wings while rappers dueled with tongue-twisting rhymes set to dizzying breakbeats.”
Maybe it would be prudent for Netflix, Ryan, and Luhrmann to consult with Seis del Sur and others who lived that era, documented it, and understand the complexities that went along with it.
Flores added, “I think it is a phenomenon that is both fascinating and horrifying at the same time. We know that what took place is having an profound effect in the world today even after all these years. It is disconcerting to those of us who went through it and the worlds perception of that. The reality was far more grimmer then what the people today perceive it to be. That part seems to get left out of the narrative. What they take from it was the culture that was born in reaction to that but not what drove it.”
Tweet Netflix that we’re watching them!
— Welcome2theBronx (@Welcome2theBX) February 6, 2015
For now, as Edwin Pagán said, we’ll just have to wait and see.
What are your thoughts?
- Netflix Orders 1970s Musical Drama From Moulin Rouge‘s Baz Luhrmann – TVLine
- Netflix Orders Music Drama ‘The Get Down’ From Baz Luhrmann, Shawn Ryan – Variety