East Los High is a teen drama series that first aired on Hulu in 2013 and has since had three very successful seasons. This show, which is meant to take place at East Los Angeles High School and its surrounding neighborhoods, has been compared to other popular teen dramas such as Degrassi andGlee. However, East Los High is different from these shows in that it focuses on the lives of Latinx teens. In fact, one of the writers and directors, Carlos Portugal, specifies that one of the goals in creating this show was to portray real-life situations that impact teens in east Los Angeles.
In order to accurately represent the Latinx teen community in east Los Angeles, the majority of the show’s cast is Latinx identifying, which is a very rare feature for Hollywood productions. It is so often the case that the majority of TV show and movie cast members in the U.S. are white. In fact, according to a recent study, only about 5% of actors in Hollywood identify as Latinx. Many believe that people of color as a whole have been poorly represented in Hollywood, which is evident in other studies as well, which suggest that Black, Asian, and Native American actors also fill a fairly small percentage of roles in Hollywood.
On the subject of Latinx visibility and representation in Hollywood, however, 19-year-old college student, Miriam Myers has this to say: “When I think of Latinx representation… the first thing that comes to mind is telenovelas, or other shows where the females are cast into roles that fall into a common stereotype… So even though there may be some visibility for Latinx people in Hollywood, the issue is that there is a certain type of visibility. Those that are most visible, I would argue, are those that fit the mold.” It is clear that Miriam considers this casting trend in Hollywood a problem because she, a Mexican-American identifying person herself, knows that the Latinx community has so much more to offer.
The creators of East Los High take pride in the fact that, once you get past the soap opera-like drama that usually attracts viewers, what you have is a show performed by actors who actually identify as Latinx and who are portraying real-life situations that impact underrepresented teens in East LA. The show covers topics such as immigration rights, financial troubles, ethnic discrimination, sexuality, and also makes use of Spanglish and bilingual dialogue. Miriam believes that it is valuable for young adults to have a true-to-life show such as this. Viewers can watch the show and say, ‘Hey, that character is totally like my mom, brother, friend, or myself!’ You don’t get that very often… [and] the fact that East Los High incorporates bilingual dialogue makes the show seem more believable… the show is giving Spanglish a sort of visibility that hasn’t has such a strong presence…”
It is clear that East Los High is a show aiming to break down barriers in Hollywood, and four seasons in, we can tell that those behind the shows are succeeding. Danielle Vega, one of East Los High’s cast members, while discussing the show’s success in an interview, was quoted to have said, “I think that Hollywood is finally starting to get it!” By saying this, Vega is implying that Hollywood is starting to realize that there is value in accurately representing the diverse cultures in this country. Miriam agrees with Vega, saying, “The fact that there are casts made up mostly of Latinx-identifying actors, or of people of color in general, is a huge step forward… Hollywood has made progress, that’s for sure. But that does not mean that the work is finished.” Working to increase Latinx visibility is certainly key at this point. It isn’t necessarily right that the Latinx community has had to overcome limitations and stereotypes in Hollywood, but it is amazingly empowering to see the Latinx leaders in the TV and movie industries overcome the odds.