Monday, 5 September 2016

#TALKONCORNERS: THE GET DOWN, NETFLIX (EPISODE ONE SPOILER ALERT!)



As the outro played on the latest big release Netflix has to offer, I sat back astonished.

So many thoughts swirled around my head as I realised that we weren't going to be hearing about teen pregnancy, (more) drug lord retribution, homosexuality, and the perils of drug use - all of which I expected before we watched the season's end. Then I realised that the listing said Part One - something that this eager beaver had managed to miss on the previous five episodes. Another thought - this one recurrent - wondered how the director of Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby could pin together such a colour-central biopic; but then I figured that Nasir 'Nastradamus' Jones had clearly loaned more than his vocals to this 6-part gritty drama. Several other thoughts centered around the storylines, but I'll share those with you all momentarily. For now, all I knew was, Baz Luhrmann had a lot to answer for.

Going online to share my weeks-old plans to write about this topic, what truly astonished me, was the magnitude of biting headlines I saw, berating the well-adapted biopic. What on EARTH? I thought? Were they serious? I thought? I can't even read any of those yet, I decided, and picked up my laptop to write this. First, for those who haven't already binge-watched it, or read the many previous reviews, let me introduce you to the backdrop...



Episode One:

A rapper by the name of 'Books' commands what appears to be a sold-out crowd with a story that goes back in time. It's 1977, and in the South Bronx, we're about to be introduced to a number of intertwined stories, between characters who have no idea that they overlap.

Ezekiel 'Zeek' Figaro (played by Justice Smith), writes rhymes in his notebook as he burns his uncle's egg breakfast. A light-skinned mix you do not immediately ascertain (we later learn that he is part-African American, part-Puerto-Rican), we discover that he is in love with a local girl called Mylene Cruz (Herizen Guardiola), who likes, but is not in love with him; or at least that's what she pretendsMylene can sing - she has a phenomenal voice actually; but she lives in a household repressed by 'Man's Christianity' (a religion led by man, and not the Bible, that is). Her God is her father (Giancarlo Esposito), and his metaphorical fist that strangles her with a grip stronger than ironHearing that she has been singing Disco, in the Church no less; she is grounded for the most innocent of her teenage crimes.

Learning she plans to sneak out and head to a dangerous club to try to pass the demo they recorded to a famous DJ; Zeek decides that the only way to win his dreamgirl's heart, is to score the remix to her favourite song, by her favourite singer, and have the notorious DJ Malibu play it during the club's weekly dance contestBefore he can pay for the record however, the store is held up by the local child gang, who are running a protection racket and hold the record store owner to ransom, looking to add him to their circle of protection. Hiding in the back of the store, before Zeek can try sneaking out, the record is grabbed out of his hands by a hotfooted, speed racer that he has, unbeknownst to him, been admiring from a far for some time for his talents with a paint canAlerting the gang to his presence, the red-clad racer with the squeaky-clean kicks earns himself a chase scene of epic, Bruce Lee wannabe proportions, and all Zeek can do is follow from a far. Managing to one up the red-clad racer whilst he is fending off the street gang, Zeek gets his record back, and makes a run for it. Battle won.

Later that night, everyone has snuck out, and headed to the local nightspot 'Les Inferno'. Owned by local gangster Fat Annie (Lillias White), it's her birthday, and she throws herself a party with all her minions in place. Her thirty-something year-old son, known as 'Cadillac' (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), would rather remain downstairs, where he can pursue Mylene and her teenage friends. Meanwhile, Zeek goes through danger, trauma, and desperate humiliation to get inside the establishment.

The earlier red-clad racer turns out to be none other than Shaolin Fantastic (Shameik Moore), the most respected graffiti artist in the South Bronx. Also a full-time drug dealer and trainee DJ; Shaolin is on the hunt for the same record. Their back alley rumble is the start of an unhealthy friend and partnership. Eventually calling a truce and getting the afro prince charming into the club, and straight up to the DJ booth, the pair manage to get the track played after some 'jive talking' with Malibu. Meeting her on the floor, Zeek and Mylene 'cut a rug' so well that they catch the jealous eye of Cadillac who, despite being summoned by his mother Fat Alice for the presentation of her cake, decides that winning Mylene from Zeek was more appealing. In the midst of this however, Fat Alice's birthday party has come to an abrupt end thanks to the local gang crashing and shooting everyone in sight.

The commotion spills down to the main club, and the casualties follow, including the infamous DJ Malibu. Zeek grabs the record from the turntable, then rescues Mylene and her friends, but it's still not enough for her to succumb to his charms. Despite saving her life and delivering her safely to her front door, Mylene breaks Zeek's heart mercilessly, telling him that she will never allow a boy like him to derail her dreams, when she's destined for such lofty heights. Leaving her to rejoin his best friends, Ra-Ra (Skylan Brooks), Boo-Boo (Tremaine Brown Jr.) and Dizzie (Jaden Smith), he cries his heart out to them in a drunken stupor, when Shaolin Fantastic happens upon them, still in search of the record. Pulling Zeek up by his bootstraps, he takes the group on to his main stop of the night - The Get Down. A no-holds-barred block party, where the legendary Grandmaster Flash (Mamoudou Athie) plays til the crowd's content.

We learn from their introduction that Shaolin Fantastic is the Grandmaster's protege, and that by delivering the record and Zeek, he has completed the tasks asked of him - to find a rare recording, and deliver a wordsmith to 'spit' over his mixes. After a rough first attempt, Zeek finds his form and more importantly the courage that he has been missing; grabbing the mic, he bodies a rival in a battle that starts his new journey as a rap MC. Forming the Fantastic Four Plus One, the group decide to take over their section of the Bronx as the new main crew, and get to work carving the persona that will earn them their own kingdom. Mylene meanwhile, has been caught sneaking in by her parents, and after an epic argument that includes a beating, she escapes to her uncle, Francisco 'Papa Fuerte' Cruz (Jimmy Smits), and tells him that all she wants to do is sing; he, in turn, promises to make her dreams come true.
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Now, I've set the scene for you, to find out how the episode ends, and the goings on in episode 2-6, I'm going to leave you to go and watch for yourselves!




What I want to discuss however, are the themes that arise from the programme as a whole. We see endless drug dependency, as well as dealing, gambling, lies and dishonesty, in addition to those aforementioned in the beginning of this piece. We also see teen sex, doubts over sexuality, political corruption, civil unrest, adultery, homelessness and poverty, and possibly teen prostitution, depending on how old Shaolin Fantastic is supposed to be (we never really find out), police corruption, domestic violence, and murder. The scene set is a grisly one; and when you consider that a new generation are being raised amongst all of this, it makes you realise that these are actually quite worrying scenes.

It is good to see the depiction of a wholesome, honest family life in Boo-Boo, Ra-Ra and Dizzie's parentage and household. Their mother is a hairdresser, and their father a musician but they evoke the warm camaraderie of the Huxtable's. Compared with the Cruz household, it seems that they are the only stable family unit in the whole program. The fact that they are black is only a positive. We also see the wholesome family institution repeated when the boys cross the Bronx into DJ Kool Herc's territory. Both of these examples offset Fat Annie's unhealthy relationship with Cadillac, the son she allows to have a place in the 'family business' (although not too prestigious a position). Where the healthy family units - including the aunt and her boyfriend who have adopted Zeek - go out of their way to encourage and uplift their youth; Fat Annie clearly doesn't hold too much faith in her own son's capabilities, shying him out of the way when matters of importance arise.

It is also good to see Papa Fuerte encourage Mylene and in turn Zeek, as ambassadors for the next generation, trying to make something of themselves. Clearly, alongside his vision for regeneration of the Bronx, he wants to see good happen for Brown and Black people in the local neighbourhoods. It's just unfortunate that he believes in doing things in an underhanded way to ensure a good outcome. The concept of 'doing bad for the greater good' makes perfect sense to him; and no matter how many people try to show him the right path, it's not the most lucrative, so he believes that no-one knows better than him. That's probably why he feels it is ok to engage in a relationship with a married woman - after all; he believes that she should have been his in the first place anyway, so where's the harm? His rivalry with, and jealousy of, his brother is never more apparent than when he exposes his past sins in front of his family to try to knock him down a peg or two. Supposedly he does it for Mylene's benefit, but you can't help feeling that he has just been waiting for his moment to strike.


And then there's Regina; for a supporting character, she has an awful lot of drama going on - her parents are divorced, her father is a drug addict, she is in an unhealthy relationship, and suffers from confidence issuesthere's enough going on there to fill her own show! Speaking of confidence, Dizzie Kipling is slightly different from the rest of the group. Often described as 'the weird one', as graffiti artist Rumi 411 he is obviously artistic. Quiet, thoughtful, contemplative, and open-minded; it is no wonder then, that he is the one caught up in a storyline of latent homosexuality.

The environmental storylines also have an effect on the everyday lives of our characters. People setting fires to their own buildings, as if trying to eradicate the borough, the Politicians who only seek the brown and black votes to help them into the Mayor's seat, but turn a blind eye to understanding the neighbourhood culture and trying to help them. Even going so far as to use Zeek as their poster child for reaching out to the masses. Zeek, in turn, knowingly allows himself to be used, and seems to resonate with the symbolic cockroach that appears at appropriate moments in the storyline; for instance, when he talks with the Councilman about having to turn his back on his friends, and leave his loved ones behind.

Drug addict and gambler Jackie's descent into a drug-fuelled overdose was a hard watch. It was raw and gritty film-making at Baz Luhrmann's finest, when he shows us how truly pathetic Jackie's life really is. Nobody respects him, he doesn't even respect himself; and his descent does nothing if not show us how great his talent could have made him, if he were not so weak-willed. The only other character of note we haven't covered is Mrs Cruz. She serves to depict the sheep-like subservient that Pastor Cruz wants his daughter Mylene to become, but the problem is, that his brother, 'Papa Fuerte', lights a fire within her that shows us that she is a passionate, wise woman, capable of thinking and acting for herself. It also shows us what Mylene is afraid of becoming, should she allow herself to be dominated by a man.

So that's it for my take on the 6-part phenomenon that has taken Netflix by storm. What did you get from it? Did you enjoy it? What was your take on the themes listed above? I'd love to hear from you on YOUR stage below - let's talk!




The first six episodes (Part One) of Baz Luhrmann's 'The Get Down' are available to watch on Netflix, now.


Catch all the latest news about the show and Part Two (coming in 2017) on the programme's social media accounts below:



Thanks for sticking with me through the very first TalkOnCorners session of the launch of EricaSharlette's Purview - your time has been greatly appreciated!

Hold tight for the final release of the day - this week's WaveRunner is up next.

Until the next...
ES