Credit: Instagram @stellahcat

Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down had the makings of small screen magic; a colossal Netflix budget ($120 million), an interesting street fable set in the broken Bronx neighbourhoods in the 70s and the brilliant director responsible for Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby at it’s helm. And as we come to the 20th anniversary of another Luhrmann film, Romeo + Juliet, we see parallels in the male protagonists as we meet Ezekiel (Justice Smith), a loveable, sensitive teenage boy who’s desperately in love with the Pastor’s daughter, Mylene (Herizen F. Guardiola).

While becoming confused in the multiple plotlines, like Luhrmann’s 2006 Romeo, your heart aches for Zeke as he comes in an out of lyrical couplets when speaking to his crush. “Mylene, Mylene, my butterscotch queen, this summer could you be my girl and I could be your king?” Nicknamed “Wordsmith”, the talented young pianist and poet hooks up by chance with DJ Shaolin Fantastic (Shameik Moore) and, as Mylene tells Zeke she’s after a man and not a boy, he turns his attention to creating hip-hop music in a derelict apartment with Shaolin and his three friends (one of them is Jaden Smith).    

Set in a time where gangster violence was the norm, lives weren’t worth pittance, poverty was widespread and ambition was seldom encouraged, there is one character who foresees Zeke’s potential. His English teacher can see his musical creativity knows no bounds and could be the very weapon for social change in this dangerous and uncertain neighbourhood. While the first 90 minute episode was confusing (why was the large lady being shot at in Inferno club? Who was the large lady in Inferno club? Why are their child bandits? What is Shaolin’s role at Inferno? How does Shaolin afford his slick, wide lapels?), stick with it. Because the multiple plotlines do begin to make sense, the hip-hop creation sequences are remarkable cinematography moments (and classic Luhrmann), and at heart of it all is this beautiful (and well-cast) group of sensitive teenage boys bidding to spark a cultural revolution in the hip-hop world. We know Zeke becomes a big-time rapper given the flash-forwards that open each episode (played by Nas) and it’s that journey we want to see.

Luhrmann, you have six more episodes and not a dollar left to convince us. 

The Get Down is streaming on Netflix now.