17 months after it was first announced that Hollywood director, Baz Luhrmann was teaming up with Netflix to produce a musical series based on the 70s in the South Bronx and the nascent days of hip-hop, we were finally treated to the finished product at the world premiere screening of the first episode right here in The Bronx.
Held at The Old Bronx County Courthouse in Melrose and hosted by the Universal Hip Hop Museum, roughly a hundred people—mostly from The Bronx—attended the premiere along with stars from series, including Jaden Smith (yes, that Jaden, son of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith), Justice Smith who plays the main character and of course Luhrmann himself.
I honestly didn’t know what to expect from the series. Last year when it was announced, we (along with many others) voiced our concerns that it wouldn’t be true to the era and more importantly true to the South Bronx and the people of the South Bronx. There was also the issue that when the initial cast was announced, there appeared to be very little to no Latino representation something which was troubling considering that during that time and era, Puerto Ricans were the largest group and played an integral role in Hip Hop’s birth and evolution.
After watching the first episode, I can confidently say that it was worth the wait and they got it right. Not perfect, but the look, the feel, the vibe, the music, every little thing seemed just right as I remembered the late 70s to be.
From the fires to the rubble but more importantly to the LIFE that was going on amidst the devastation, it was captured beautifully as one would expect Baz Luhrmann to do. From the opening scene to the landscape of the South Bronx of the 70s brought to life on a big (or small) screen gave me goosebumps and was a very emotional journey for me to witness this.
We lived and survived those years but we also remember those who didn’t survive, something that you can’t help but remember while watching ‘The Get Down’.
The story feels like a South Bronx Romeo and Juliet with a couple who seem destined for each other but their lives and ambitions driving them apart.
You also get a lot of humor thrown into the first episode and some clear nods to the Blaxploitation movies of the 70s—an indication not to take the entire series so seriously and also a clear acknowledgment that YES there was life in the South Bronx.
In the first episode, we start to get to know the main characters a bit and Justice Smith’s acting was excellent, who plays Ezekiel “Books” Figueroa as was most of the cast including his leading lady, Herizen F. Guardiola who plays his love interest, Mylene Cruz who’s father is a devout Christian and pastor who vehemently disapproves of her singing disco and “straying” from the church.
We’re also introduced to Papa Fuerte aka Francisco Cruz, played by Jimmy Smits, who’s a huge community leader tugging at City Hall’s strings with the power he sways over the communities he takes care of. There’s no doubt at all that this character is loosely based off real life Bronxite, the late Ramon Velez.
Oh and let’s not forget the scenes in St Mary’s Park made folks smile and laugh with excitement at seeing our local landmarks in a major series.
Which brings me to the point of historical accuracy etc. This is a television series, not a documentary, so clearly there are gonna be many loose interpretations of actual people of that era but one thing that remains true, at least in this first episode, is that feel for the era seems right and somehow they captured it well.
And that’s not by luck but purely by design as photographer Joe Conzo Jr, who was referenced as taking hip hop’s baby pictures by David Gonzalez of The New York Times in a 2005 article, and also a part of Seis del Sur collective and legendary graffiti artist, John “Crash” Matos were eventually hired as consultants to the series. This was after there were community outcry and concern that our stories may not be told the right way.
“I was touched personally by what I saw of the first episode,” said Joe Conzo Jr, “I could identify with many scenes and so did my wife who grew up in a Pentecostal household so she could see herself in the scenes with the pastor and his daughter.”
But not everyone is thrilled or happy about the series even though they haven’t watched the first episode. Many have already written it off completely and some even chose not to attend the premiere.
If you’ve been following our coverage of The Get Down since it was first announced, you know we’ve been cautious about passing any sort of positive, glowing review until we saw the finished product.
“To the naysayers, just fucking relax!” added Joe Conzo Jr, “Be happy that so many of our Latino BBoys and BGirls straight from the concrete floors of DA BRONX got to be a part of this project. Is it a bit glorified at moments? Of course, it’s Hollywood.”
Crash aka John Matos also seemed pretty pleased with how the first episode turned out.
“I like how they incorporated all the main characters, the music, dance, and everything else,” said Crash who, like Conzo Jr, has been on board consulting with the creators of The Get Down.
He added that “There’s always room for improvement and that will come when they dive deeper with the main characters, the neighborhood. It’s still being written but the best part is how they listen to our suggestions and rewrite scripts to get things right. To me, that says a lot.”
And that’s a key element in making it as authentic as possible. Here you have two icons from the Era. Joe who documented the nascent scene and Crash who also lived it through his graffiti bombing of trains and the likes.
They both have helped convey a sense of authenticity and realness to the production.
And yes, there’s always room for improvement but I was pleasantly surprised with the first episode. I was left wanting to see more to see where these ragtag crew of kids would head to next.
I’m definitely looking forward to binging on the rest of the series when it comes out.
‘The Get Down’ premieres Friday, August 12th, only on Netflix.