There's so much to unpack in Netflix's The Get Down, but one of the many pretty lights it shines is on the contributions of Latinos to hip-hop culture. New Yorkers and/or mavens of hip-hop history know how deeply entrenched Latinos — and Puerto Ricans especially — were in the formation of the culture; from Angie Martinez to Fat Joe, Big Pun and even — hey, why not? — J. Lo, many of the people who had a hand in making hip-hop culture the global phenomenon it is today are proud Boricuas. (And that doesn't even account for the Latino graffiti artists, breakdancers and DJs who pioneered their respective forms.)
All that often gets overlooked however, in a culture generally associated with African-Americans. That's why the Latino presence in The Get Down is refreshing and important.
"I'm glad [the Latino presence] is there," (Herizen Guardiola), who plays Mylene in the series, told TVGuide.com in an exclusive interview. (Although she's Puerto Rican on the show, she's Cuban in real life.) "It's an area that doesn't get touched on much." She noted, for example, how the very Latin hip movements evident in The Hustle and other dances informed the disco movement that's prevalent in The Get Down.
Jimmy Smits, who plays her uncle Francisco Cruz, cites an even closer link between Puerto Rican culture and rap's origins. "In Latin music there's a term called decima," he said, citing the poetry form that covers a wide range of subject matter and encourages poets to "battle" each other in rhyme. Smits is not only Puerto Rican, he's from the Bronx and witnessed the history as it was made, so seeing it celebrated has special resonance for him.
"One of the things that was very emotional for me on a lot of levels was the fact that we filmed in places I literally stomped around as a young un," he said. His cousins lived around the corner from the church featured in the show, and the rubble field we see the boys playing in was blocks away from his high school. "It was a very emotional journey for me. I'm happy the story is getting told. There's beauty on the page."
The Get Down is streaming on Netflix.