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Netflix Show About 1970s South Bronx Has Locals Worried

By Eddie Small | February 12, 2015 10:29am
 Joe Conzo Jr.'s photographs help illustrate what the South Bronx was like during the 1970s, a decade that a new Netflix series will explore.
The South Bronx in the 1970s
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SOUTH BRONX — An upcoming Netflix series focusing on the South Bronx in the 1970s has locals worried about how outsiders will portray their borough.

The series, directed by Baz Luhrmann and called "The Get Down," aims to tell the story of how a city teetering on the edge of bankruptcy gave birth to hip-hop, disco and punk.

It focuses on a group of teenagers from the South Bronx which Netflix describes as "nothings and nobodies with no one to shelter them — except each other, armed only with verbal games, improvised dance steps, some magic markers and spray cans."

"It almost seems like a South Bronx version of 'Fame,'" said Ed Garcia Conde, who has written about concerns Bronxites have with the series on Welcome2TheBronx, a blog he founded.

Joe Conzo Jr., a photographer who extensively documented The Bronx in the '70s and has been dubbed "The Man Who Took Hip-Hop's Baby Pictures," said that if the series hopes to accurately convey what the borough was like during that decade, the creators have a responsibility to seek out those New Yorkers who lived through it.

"Don’t whitewash it Hollywood style," he said. "If you’re going to speak on it and you want to portray a time period, have some authenticity. Have people that lived through it."

Although he acknowledged that The Bronx faced problems at the time with abandoned and burning buildings, he maintained that such issues should not define the borough and said he still had a great time growing up there.

John "Crash" Matos, a graffiti pioneer born in 1961 and raised in The Bronx, agreed that "The Get Down" should not just focus on crime and fires, especially given how broadly known those images of The Bronx already are.

"What’s the point?" he asked. "You’re beating a dead horse. It doesn’t do anything.

"There was so much more beyond the burned buildings and the gangs. The music scene was starting to thrive. Focus on that and how the art scene was moving."

Someone from "The Get Down" reached out to Matos about a month ago to ask him about being a technical advisor on the series, but he has not heard back from them, he said.

DJ Disco Wiz, an author and pioneer of hip-hop in The Bronx, said he hoped to see "The Get Down" pursue a more sophisticated narrative than the typical one of hip-hop rising out of a nearly bankrupt, crime-ridden city to become a platform for change and unity.

"No one has ever really done a series truly covering the evolution of hip-hop as a culture," he said. "It's all been sound bites in a vacuum. The culture is so much more than that."

The series will consist of 13 one-hour episodes and comes from Sony Pictures Television and is expected to air in 2016.

A Sony spokeswoman said it was "way too soon" to discuss whether the series would consult with Bronxites from the 1970s or work to move beyond the stereotypes of the borough.

Conzo spoke derisively of the way The Bronx has previously been portrayed in pop culture, specifically calling out the 1981 film "Fort Apache, The Bronx" for criticism.

The movie starred Paul Newman as a police officer in a South Bronx inhabited only by "pimps, whores, prostitutes and drug addicts," according to Conzo.

He said he and others demonstrated against the film constantly and were pleased by the disclaimer at the beginning of the movie stressing that it did not portray the community's law-abiding members who were working to improve their neighborhood.

"We were the poster child of urban decay and blight at the time, but that’s from an outsider's perspective looking in," Conzo said.

"Again, I'm a product of The Bronx and turned out pretty damn well, and so did a lot of other people."

Did we miss your favorite Bronx movie or TV show in the timeline? Let us know in the comments!