MOTT HAVEN — Famed director Baz Luhrmann assured a group of Bronxites on Friday that his new Netflix series about their borough would move beyond the negative stereotypes that have long plagued its portrayals in pop culture.
Although he acknowledged that his upcoming show "The Get Down," which focuses on a group of teenagers from the South Bronx during the 1970s, takes place in the midst of a very difficult time for the borough, he stressed that its focus would be on the art that came out of these troubles, not on the troubles themselves.
"Ours is an aspirational story," he said during an event at Mott Haven's Ghetto Film School. "It's actually about the birth of creativity from this place."
Luhrmann, an Australian who is well-known for glitzy films like "Moulin Rouge!" and the 2013 version of "The Great Gatsby," said that he understood why people might be surprised to see him creating a Netflix series about The Bronx, but he maintained that his perspective as an outsider could help him treat the era with more objectivity.
"In a way, my neutrality — the fact that I saw this from a distance in a small country town in a far away place, and now it’s the city I live in — my neutrality allows me also to maybe, I hope, bring to the table many characters and many forefathers that should be recognized," he said.
His interest in making the series stemmed from a fascination with how The Bronx managed to develop the global cultural phenomenon of hip hop during such an arduous time for the borough, he said.
The series has launched a casting website for actors and actresses interested in trying out for parts, and Luhrmann said he was very enthusiastic about finding talent from The Bronx to help ground the series in reality.
"It actually always brings an authentic connection to it," he said, explaining why he hoped to cast some locals. "There’s no doubt about that."
Filming for "The Get Down" should begin on May 21 and wrap up on Nov. 16, and the series should arrive on Netflix around August of 2016.
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who introduced Luhrmann at the Ghetto Film School event, lamented the negative perception that some people worldwide still have about The Bronx and said that this was largely because of the media.
“In '77, when there was the World Series, Howard Cosell said, ‘The Bronx is burning.’ That left an indelible mark on the minds of people to this very day,” he said. “That was media.”
He argued that it was time for a new story about The Bronx and believed that Luhrmann would be able to help tell it through “The Get Down.”
Bronx residents who lived through the 1970s have expressed concerns that the series would portray the borough unfairly, and Luhrmann granted that it would include some familiar images of crime and rubble.
However, he reiterated that the series would be more about The Bronx overcoming these problems.
"At a certain point, rubble is just boring," he said. "Now rebirth, that’s a story."