Yes, The Get Down --Netflix's upcoming series about young kids coming of age in The Bronx in the early days of hip-hop — is full of drool-worthy eye and ear candy in the form of 1970s costumes, sets and music. It's executive produced Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby), after all, a man known for creating tantalizing period pieces that make viewers feel like they're fully immersed in a technicolor dream state.
But The Get Down is much more than just Luhrmann's stab at gleeful nostalgia. It's an attempt by the famous creative visionary to celebrate the achievements of pioneers — poor black and Latino young people who creating an art form amid brutal circumstances.
"These young people didn't do it because they wanted to be rich or they thought their graffiti would be in a museum," Luhrmann said at Netflix's panel during the Television Critics Association fall previews in Beverly Hills Wednesday. "They were doing it because the world was saying, 'You don't exist.' They were doing it because they were saying, 'We exist.'"
The Get Down, which premieres on August 12, takes place largely in The Bronx in 1977 — a time and place where crime, drugs, poverty and civic neglect created a dangerous, depressing atmosphere for the young people there. Amid the decay, burning tenements and gang violence, though, hopeful teenagers determined to make a better life for themselves turned to DJ'ing, rapping, breakdancing and graffiti-ing as an outlet of creative expression.
The series follows Ezekiel "Books" Figuero (Justice Smith), a talented wordsmith on the verge of flunking out of school. He's dating Mylene Cruz (Herizen Guardiola), a singer who sees disco as her way out of the ghetto. The two are intertwined with characters including Shaolin Fantastic (Shameik Moore) and Grandmaster Flash (Mamoudou Athie), who use their musical gifts to take part in this emerging new form not only as a way to be creative, but also to survive.
"It's based on young people and optimism and ambition," said hip-hop writer/critic Nelson George, a supervising producer on The Get Down. "That energy of possibility ... you're seeing youth optimism. That's what elevates the show."
For Luhrmann, the entire experience creating the series — which he called his most difficult ever — was a learning process. He first had the idea to explore the culture while sitting in a cafe in Paris and seeing a photograph of guys in a "b-boy stance," which led him to an intense self-education on the elements we see in The Get Down: the end of disco, New York City's economic downturn in the 1970s, politics, race and much, much more. The production - two years in the making and, according to a Variety account, drastically over budget - was a labor of love for Luhrmann, because he wanted to get it right and really do justice to the overlooked creatives whose culture has spread to the entire world. Grandmaster Flash, a hip-hop pioneer, acted as a consultant, as well as many other experts who were part of the culture from the beginning. The painstaking research was not just for accuracy in the series, but also so The Get Down wouldn't just be an outsider's take on what happened.
"I am annoying," Luhrmann said Wednesday. "I want to get it right. I wanted to make sure we paid respect to the young people who did it to say, 'We exist.'"
The Get Down premieres Aug. 12 on Netflix.