The Get Down: Empowering Art With Optimism and Honesty

Last year I got the all-too-familiar Netflix email saying a new TV show had been added. That TV show was The Get Down. It sounded interesting and I liked the idea, so I gave it a chance. Series 1 was great, it was enjoyable. I thought to myself “here is a show I can watch, and be entertained, and at points educated”. That’s about it, it was a good start to a good show. But then, later, came Series 1, Part 2 and things changed for me. Perhaps series 1 just needed part 2 to contextualise everything and to show me what it was I was missing. Perhaps Part 2 is just better, technically and musically, or perhaps, and more likely, it is a mixture of the two.

The Get Down is set in the 1970s, during a period of uprising, poverty and increasing conflict between gangs, classes and races. It floats between historical tale, and musically infused drama and intends to educate, entertain and inspire. All of which it does. The visual style varies from collected archive footage from the time, to heavily thought out art directed shots, to comic-book inspired animation. Unlike how it might sound, it is not messy, it works simply and at relevant times, as opposed to random and sporadic inclusions for pure visual satisfaction.

With a team of heavily talented and renowned artists, directors and writers such as NAS, Baz Lurhman, Grandmaster Flash and Stephen Adly Guirgis, it is no surprise just how artistically inclined it is. They are presenting art history, through historically inspired art. The efforts don’t just stop at writing, designing and directing, the music is phenomenal and the performances are highly skillful. The entire cast of The Get Down Brothers, their enemies, Myleen and her family, the record producers. All bouncing off each others performances, and working toward a commendable collaboration.

Justice Smith, who I personally had only seen in Paper Towns before, has impressed me incredibly. He has taken command of his role and ran with it, easily swapping between the boy-who-has-dreams, the-boy-who’s-in-love and the-boy-who-will-do-anything-for-his-brothers. You’re rooting for him, and holding your head in your hands whenever he makes a mistake. Herizen Guardiola takes the show by storm, and shows emotion and determination all in one. Jaden Smith, Skylan Brooks and Tremaine Brown JR have equally applaudable turns at showing their stories (of which are well thought out) and find motivation in nearly every movement and line. It goes on and on and on, notes on performances could be an entirely different post in itself. Not to mention the ridiculously bulletproof and furious interaction between Jimmy Smits, Giancarlo Esposito and Zabryna Guevara. Perhaps the most endearing part about this is how varied the casts experiences are, varying from industry renowned performers to practically first-role newcomers. Something directors are often too scared of, and something that just proves how this show is more concerned with performance and effort than marketability.

While I can go on about directing, style and performance, it is not what has made this show so special for me. It is, or at least appears to be, doing a great thing for the arts. At a time where performing arts are still being removed from schools and many young artists are losing faith, it is a great show to enter the mix.

It may be packed with optimism but it also shows the reality (the accuracy of which, I’m aware, at points can be a little questionable) of the past and its relationship with art. It documents the rise of hip-hop, through adversity and external influences trying to shut it down. It shows artists being beaten down, often literally, for doing what they love. It shows the same artists getting up, time after time, to show the world what they can do. It shows the positive impact and real, substantial effect music and art has on the world, on people, on communities etc.

From some of the foremost players in the industry comes a prime example of a sort of rediscovered, slightly altered time capsule for younger generations, using younger generations. The last episode of Series 1, Part 2 is the longest yet, and is a roller-coaster of events and emotion, but ultimately ends in a mixture of successful dreams and failing dreams. Even at the end it holds optimism and honesty in its best intentions. It shows how not everyone is a survivor, but everyone who is has found the drive, the passion and the patience. It is a lesson from those that have already succeeded to those who aspire to succeed. It is beautiful and appropriate then, to not just label the episode “Only From Exile Can We Come Home” but to also end the episode with this image in the back of our minds:

(you cannot) Imagine (What we will) Become

(You cannot) Imagine (What we’ll) Become.

It’s important, I believe, and I believe the director would agree, to see this image as those two elements. Firstly, the full sentence: “You cannot imagine what we’ll become” but also as the advice: “Imagine. Become.”

It’s a message of defiance and a threat to anyone who doesn’t believe. It is a tender and loving piece of advice to everyone that wants to believe. Dreamers, it asks, don’t give up because “You cannot imagine what we’ll become”, if you want to succeed, to dream then “Imagine. Become.”

If you’re a fan of diversity, in music, in culture, in race, in gender, and in thought, then this show will do well for you. If you’re a fan of dreaming, and in truth vs imagination, then this is for you. I will not lie and say that it is the most perfect and original programme to ever be created, because truth be told it isn’t. I am not a historian so I cannot pick out the inaccuracies, but I believe there are some. The originality isn’t in the form (although some elements are arguably rather new) but in the need and concentration on the message within a modern time. It is great because it tries, not too hard, and not too little. It reaches a digestible medium, and one that leads us, in the end, to inspiration and a renewed love for our idols and their battles to be where they are.

Catch it on Netflix and remember….

Believe. Imagine.

Spread it.


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