An image from Baz Luhrmann of the cast during rehearsal
An image from Baz Luhrmann of the cast during rehearsal

So much for Baz Lurhmann’s casting call seeking African American or Latino males.

The Bronx and Hip Hop community has been abuzz about Baz Luhrmann’s Netflix series ‘The Get Down’, due out in August 2016, ever since it was first announced several months ago. Most of the chatter was whether or not outsiders would get our story right (Welcome2TheBronx was the first to raise this issue) and now it seems we may have been right: Not one Latino cast member was introduced this week.

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According to the Huffington Post the cast is as follows:

“Tremaine Brown Jr will star as 14-year-old Boo-Boo, “a mechanically-minded kid who wants to get down, he is an irrepressible 40-year old in a 14-year old body.” According to Netflix, Brown is an aspiring rapper and dancer. “T.J. hones his craft by performing in the NYC subway, where he was discovered by ‘The Get Down’ casting team,” Netflix said in a release.

Justice Smith will play Ezekiel, “a smart, resourceful teen brimming with untapped talent and unrequited love who is determined to make his mark in this world.” Smith is 19 years old and can also be seen in the feature film “Paper Towns,” which will be out in June.

Nineteen-year-old Shameik Moore was cast as Shaolin Fantastic, “a child of the streets, thrill-seeking, unpredictable, eccentric but above all, enigmatic.” Atlanta-born Moore starred in this year’s breakout Sundance hit, “Dope.”

Skylan Brooks will be Ra-Ra, a loyal, respected, protective friend and brother with his head screwed on tight, he’s the voice of reason beyond his years.” Brooks is a Los Angeles native and will also be seen in Antoine Fuqua’s “Southpaw” opposite Jake Gyllenhaal and Rachel McAdams.

“The characters these young actors play in ‘The Get Down’ unwittingly become a band of brothers,” Luhrmann said in the release. “Any great group is always made up of distinctly different characters, and the actors we are privileged enough to invite into the roles of Ezekiel, Shaolin Fantastic, Boo-Boo and Ra-Ra all have the distinction of being from such diverse backgrounds — from performing in subways in the Bronx to the music scene of Atlanta and of course Los Angeles. I know they’re collectively on the beginning of a thrilling journey with a big story to tell.”

The series, which is set in the South Bronx of the 70s, according to Netflix:

“The Get Down” will focus on 1970s New York City – broken down and beaten up, violent, cash strapped — dying. Consigned to rubble, a rag-tag crew of South Bronx teenagers are nothings and nobodies with no one to shelter them – except each other, armed only with verbal games, improvised dance steps, some magic markers and spray cans. From Bronx tenements, to the SoHo art scene; from CBGBs to Studio 54 and even the glass towers of the just-built World Trade Center, The Get Down is 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.”

52 Park B-boy/B-girl scene in The Bronx / Image courtesy and ©Ricky Flores
52 Park B-boy/B-girl scene in The Bronx / Image courtesy and ©Ricky Flores

How does a show about this era in time, about this genre forget one of the largest components and contributing forces such as Latinos, and particularly the Puerto Rican community? How do the producers, writers, and consultants of the show ignore the largest segment of the South Bronx population of the 1970s?

The Puerto Rican and Latino influences are well documented yet often overlooked and ignored and now it seems that a major Hollywood producer is getting it all wrong.

Late last night in a conversation with b-boy Richard Colón, best known as Crazy Legs of Rock Steady Crew he said, “It only shows how people choose to ignore the contributions of Puerto Ricans as well as other Latinos to Hip Hop Culture.”

Just moments later Madonna, who’s on the Jimmy Fallon show, is talking about what she misses most and mentions that very energy from that era and people like Keith Haring, Basquiat, Andy Warhol and Rock Steady Crew.

There on national television, right before Madonna performed a heavily Hip Hop influenced number, she mentions the very group and man who I’m having a conversation with.

Forward to 25:31 where Madonna begins to talk about the NYC of that era and mentions the Rock Steady Crew:

In the earliest documentaries on Hip Hop such as Style Wars and Wild Style, you see the Puerto Rican Latino influences on the genre.

Even NPR last month did a piece on that very often overlooked aspect when people talk about Hip Hop’s history.

We reached out to HOLA (Hispanic Organization of Latino Actors) and A.B. Lugo, Associate Director of the organization told us:

“The Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors (HOLA) is concerned about the possible absence of Latino characters in the Netflix-Baz Luhrmann series “The Get Down”. The story of the birth and growth of hip hop cannot be accurately told without the inclusion of the contributions of Latinos.
 
Fuller statement:We at the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors (HOLA) have noticed the details released by Netflix for the upcoming Baz Luhrmann television series “The Get Down” and are concerned by its absence of Latino characters and stories. HOLA is investigating the production’s practices and efforts in casting as we do with many productions where we feel Latino faces and voices are missing.
 
Right now the available details are too sketchy to be able to issue a definitive statement regarding whether we feel there has been a failure here to include Latinos in a story that really should have them. Hip-hop was created by African Americans and Latinos and both have been instrumental in the development of hip hop through its four elements (MCing, DJing, breakdancing, and graffiti). It would be an indictment on the authenticity of this work if it didn’t also include Latino stories and Latino characters.
 
The role of Latinos in hip hop (as well as other genres of music and art) is well-documented but often overlooked. “The Get Down” gives the opportunity to get the narrative right and present a fuller, more complete story of the 1970s New York art scene (which included such Latino luminaries as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Devastating Tito of the Fearless Four, Richard “Crazy Legs” Colón, Luis DJ Disco Wiz Cedeño, and Billy Murcia of the New York Dolls).
 
We hope that our first impressions here are wrong, because we know Netflix has a relatively good track record at telling Latino stories and using Latino actors (for example, “Orange is the New Black”). We are also aware that Baz Luhrmann has been inclusive to Latinos in casting his productions as well.
 
We will not only be monitoring this story closely but we will be actively investigating this matter and asking the tough questions to the right people. A central part of our mission here at HOLA is to do just that, and hold the media accountable for treating our community fairly.
 
I guess the question Latinos need to ask Netflix and Baz Luhrmann regarding their upcoming production is, “How can WE get down?” 

(Go to HOLA’s website for their full statement)

Edwin Pagán a filmmaker and a member of Seis del Sur said that, “…the idea of a “town hall” has been floated to get the original stakeholders and community together to prep a response and collective plan-of-action and the ball is already rolling to make this happen.”

“I think a lot of folks have not stepped up to make sure our role in this genre – or in other areas – is recognized. Now, we have to be the ones to set it straight and make sure folks know there’s a bruising at the tail-end of negation, co-option, and the re-imagining of our stories, especially in our back yard.” added Pagán.

With this latest announcement from Netflix and Baz Luhrmann, there is little hope that ‘The Get Down’ will have any semblance of accuracy about the era and will more than probably be better known as ‘The Let Down’.

We know better than to judge something that isn’t even out yet let alone in production, but if this is the sign of things to come, then it is a major fail as we had hoped it wouldn’t be but somehow knew outsiders would once again get our story wrong.

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