Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down is scheduled to be released on Netflix on August 12th. The series follows a young boy, Zeke, as he develops his talent as a wordsmith/writer and discovers love in late 1970s South Bronx. The film is musically driven, using disco, punk, and hip-hop as its backdrop. Baz Luhrmann, who directed Romeo + Juliet, The Great Gatsby, and Moulin Rouge!, is known for films that push boundaries and are radically different from a lot of their contemporaries in both texture and tone.
He has already spent an exorbitant amount of money the most for any television series on Netflix since the streaming site launched to create original content.
In writing this coming of age story, Luhrmann had a lot to deal with in order to adequately paint an accurate picture of the South Bronx in the 1970s. The South Bronx was one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City at the time, with a strong Latino and Black population. Homeowners would often burn their apartment buildings down, feeling that it would be more profitable to collect on the insurance than support the people who lived in the neighborhood. The lives of some of the people who lived through this era were a complex mix of poverty, violence, and a desire for something greater.
In order to tell a good coming of age story about the lives of poor Black and Latino youth, Luhrmann has to be able to capture all of this and depict it well without coming across as disingenuous. It’s worth mentioning that The Get Down is the only project mentioned in this article directed by a white man, which is concerning.
Luckily, The Get Down will join an already robust canon of stories about Black youth, and it has a lot of source texts to pull from. We’ve compiled a list of 10 movies that The Get Down sh
House Party (1990)
What we learned: The Turn Up
House Party is a light hearted, comedic film starring the rap duo Kid’ N Play. Although many Black coming of age stories are dramas, this film centers around a valuable and often overlooked part of being a Black teenager: the parties. It also gifted us with an iconic dance that will forever remain part of the old-school dance repertoire. The Get Down is sure to feature some of the staple dances from the 70s, including the start of break dancing.
Boyz n the Hood (1991)
What we learned: Internal Struggle vs. External Pressure
Although filmed in South Central LA, John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood is one of the most relatable films for any young person who has grown up in an area of abject poverty and violence. The three main characters, Tre (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), Ricky (Morris Chestnut), and Doughboy (Ice Cube), all have separate dreams and desires, but wrestle with their personal beliefs and succumbing to the dangers of their external environment. This struggle is prominent in many coming of age Black dramas.
What we learned: Watch the company you keep
In the movie, starring Tupac and Omar Epps, four young men seek to gain respect and will do anything to get it. The movie displays the priority that we place on respect, but also the dangers of friendship. As my mother used to tell me, “Friends carry you places. But, they can’t bring you back”. In many of these movies, at least one person passes away because of a friend’s mistake. It is just a matter of whom.
Menace II Society (1993)
What we learned: how to recover from the mistakes of our elders
Menace II Society shows the plight of growing up in a drug infested world and wishing to not fall into the trap that befalls so many young people of color. The main character, Kaine, seeks to escape South Central LA and not end up like his parents, who both fell victim to the drug game. Our current generation is a reflection of the generations before us. Many of these movies portray that the problems of any era are a culmination of previous issues.
Sister Act II (1993)
What we learned: How to depict living up to other characters’ expectations
Rita Watson (Lauryn Hill) wants to become a professional singer even though her mother sees no future in it. In The Get Down, Mylene Cruz (Herizen Guardiola) has a similar issue. Our parents can often serve as limitations because they envision a certain lifestyle for their children that we do not want for ourselves.
What we learned: How to portray a feeling of adolescent numbness
Fresh (Sean Nelson) is a 12 year old drug dealer, trying to raise money to escape the cycle of poverty and drugs in Brooklyn. The saddest part of the movie is how numb Fresh becomes to the violence around him. He does not cry even when multiple of his friends die. It seems depressing, but this represents the mentality of many young people who are surrounded by violence and poverty.
What we learned: How to tell a story about parentalized children
Many children are forced to raise themselves due to situations outside of their control. Spike Lee’s Crooklyn is focused on a young girl, Troy (Zelda Harris), who is dealing with poverty in her 1970s, Brooklyn neighborhood. It highlights the importance of family.
Higher Learning (1995)
What we learned: Being black in a world dominated by white culture
John Singleton’s Higher Learning follows the lives of three college freshman as they adjust to life on their predominantly white college campus. It tackles the issues of micro-aggressions and code switching, two big parts of what it means to be Black — hiding our nature in order to conform to some narrative.
What we learned: How to remain true to yourself
If you are not from the hood, do not pretend to be. If you are not an upper-class aristocrat, do not pretend to be. This is the premise behind Chris Robinson’s ATL. Growing up is about understanding who you are and that people will accept you regardless.
What we learned: There is no singular Black identity
In popular culture, we tend to portray Black people and especially, Black masculinity in a certain way. Black men are brash, arrogant, violent, loud, etc. What Dope tries to do is break down these stereotypes in a funny story about a teenager who basically lives in the middle. He is too Black for the white kids and acts too white for the Black kids. He has aspirations of getting into an Ivy league school, listens to old-school hip-hop, and is a lead singer in a pop punk band. It is important to see these images because the misrepresentation of Black men in the media reinforces negative perceptions that only hinder racial progress.
The Get Down has a lot to live up to, but Baz Luhrmann is more than capable of delivering a remarkable show. Check out The Get Down on Netflix, starting on August 12th.Photos via wikimedia (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), tumblr (1, 2, 3, 4)