The creative decisions made on the Sony Pictures TV series about youth in the South Bronx in the late 1970s were designed to reflect an authenticity rarely afforded in mainstream TV.
“Get Down” supervising producer Nelson George, an author and cultural commentator who has written several books about hip-hop, credits co-creator/exec producer Baz Luhrmann for the commitment to telling the story of the artistic explosion of disco, hip-hop and rap through the eyes of teenage characters.
“As a black American, one of the things I was impressed by throughout is that Baz never tried to impose white characters in this world,” says George. “That happens a lot in (black) narratives — you’ll have white characters in there to explain the world.”
Netflix’s track record with “Orange Is the New Black” may well be a sign that stories with diverse characters will resonate with audiences from very different backgrounds. “Get Down” — the title refers to 1970s-era slang for what became hip-hop — mines universal coming-of-age themes with a beat you can dance to.
“When you get past the period stuff, the show is about teenagers and young adults trying to define their lives in a period of chaos,” George says. “It’s about that sense of possibility you have when you’re young and yearning to define yourself.”
“Get Down” doesn’t stint in its depiction of poverty and urban decay in the Bronx at a low point for New York City overall. But Luhrmann insisted that there be a “spirit of positivity” to the main characters and their exploits.
“We didn’t want it to be seen from the point of view of the outsiders looking at how negative it was,” Luhrmann says. “The overwhelming thing we learned in our research was that these kids just saw a giant world of possibility, of pure creativity, in front of them.”
Cindy Holland, Netflix’s VP of original content, believes “Get Down” cast members — including Justice Smith, Herizen Guardiola, Skylan Brooks, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Tremaine Brown Jr. as well as Jaden Smith — will be seen as “fresh discoveries” by viewers. “I think our members are going to fall in love with these kids and the music,” she says.
With the show opening Aug. 12 across Netflix’s global footprint of 190-plus countries, “Get Down” may also help change perceptions in Hollywood about the commercial potential of black and Latino stories.
“Everybody talks a good game about diversity but this is really stepping up to the plate,” George says of Netflix. “I feel like whatever we do, we’re already putting a stamp out there that the world can be different. That’s going to be the biggest takeaway. If we’re able to have a few more seasons, we’ll have said something about the bulls—t that’s been said in Hollywood for generations that the rest of the world isn’t interested in black stories.”