Friday, April 10, 2015

Netflix and Baz Luhrmann's Upcoming Series "The Get Down" Takes Place in 1970s New York City and the Early Days of Hip Hop... So Where Are The Latinos?

Netflix announced the cast for Baz Luhrmann's "The Get Down," his new original series about a group of "ragtag teenagers" set in the Bronx in the late 1970s. 

The show's synopsis is compelling, hinting at musical themes. Per 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.
The cast of "The Get Down".
Netflix ordered 13 episodes of "The Get Down" and Luhrmann will direct the first two episodes and the season finale. It is expected to debut in August of 2016. 

It appears that none of the four lead characters, named Boo-Boo, Ezekiel, Ra-Ra, and Shaolin Fantastic, respectively, according to the descriptions provided by Netflix, are Latino. [They will be played by relative newcomers Tremaine (TJ) Brown, Jr.; Justice Smith; Shameik Moore; and Skylan Brooks.]

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. Ed García Conde of expounds on this nicely in his blog on the topic. "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).

Baz Luhrmann.
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?"

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