East Los High – Not Just Another Teen Show

By LaTasha Whitley

A few months ago, while browsing through Hulu, I randomly stumbled across the show, East Los High.  After watching one episode, I was so hooked that I finished the entire first season that same day!  I loved how captivating, raw, humorous, and current the show was.  It highlighted various social issues faced by teenagers and uniquely starred a predominantly-Latino cast.  The characters drew you into the show and made you crave seeing how their stories would unfold.

east los high 01I never imagined that months after discovering the show, I would have the opportunity to interview the show’s Executive Producer, Katie Elmore Mota.  As owner of the production company, Wise Entertainment, she has dedicated her career to creating innovative entertainment programming to address social and health issues.  In 2010, she started developing  East Los High, in response to rising teen pregnancy rates among Latinas.  At the time, at least  53% of Latino teens in the U.S. had at least one pregnancy by the age of 20.  This was a rate far higher than their ethnic counterparts, highlighting the necessity to address this subject in the Latino community.  Katie’s team subsequently sought to “create a show that tackled teen pregnancy from the perspective of giving teens important health information…role-modeling story lines so they could make the best decision for themselves (in terms of navigating their teen years, relationships, sex, etc.).”  At the same time, the team sought to provide Latino teens, a highly underserved market in mainstream media, with a representative voice.

One of the most striking things about the show is how it really speaks to the culture of its characters.  It exhibits a richness and depth that draws you into the story line and leaves you longing for more.  This in-depth knowledge of the characters’ culture partially comes from the show’s Latino team of writers and creators, Carlos Portugal and Kathleen Bedoya.  Mota explained, “the stories, nuances and humor can really push the envelope because they are coming from a personal place and sharing things that [the creators and writers] know.”

east los high 02Besides pulling from personal knowledge, the show often incorporates insights from advisory committees to help shape its creative edge.  Numerous non-profit organizations that work with teens in critical service areas provide their expertise on what’s important, and how to address these issues in an engaging way.  A youth advisory committee also provides useful feedback on the challenges teens face today, their likes/dislikes, and what’s important to them.

Within a few days of airing season 1, the hash tag #ELHAddict could be seen all over social media.  The show received massive support and overwhelmingly positive feedback.  Viewers sent messages, sharing their experiences with teen pregnancy, questions about birth control options and thoughts about show content.  In my conversation with Katie, I was amazed to learn that the show has a robust social media team that responds to posts and messages within 24 hours, as well as connects individuals to professionals for help, when needed.  Several referrals have already been made to clinics for information about birth control, domestic violence services and prevention/testing services for sexually transmitted infections (STI).  As Mota stated, “the overall message of the show was that, no matter the situation, youth can learn to navigate the tools available to them;” that they are not alone. 

I was ecstatic when I heard that season 2 was available for viewing!  Season 2 offers even more suspense, introduces new characters, and expands on the lives of some of the original cast members.  It also highlights the impact of domestic violence and difficulties that teens face when exploring their sexual identities.  Watching one of the main characters, Ceci, fight to escape an abusive relationship has been one of the most authentic and heart wrenching parts of season 2.  Ceci’s story emphasizes the complexities involved in the cycle of abuse and how hard it can be to successfully escape (especially when children are involved).  The show, however, has done a phenomenal job of striking balance between “keeping it real and providing hope,” in this story line and others.  The resulting hash tag #angryaintcute has sparked significant discussion about the realities that have been portrayed on the show; leading many viewers to even draw parallels between their lives and those of the characters.

Katie Elmore Mota shared that one of her favorite parts about producing the show has been working with an amazing team who loves and cares about the work they do.  One of her colleagues once exclaimed, “I think I was born for this show!”  I would agree.  The enthusiasm and dedication of the team really shines through when you watch the show.  You are taken through a host of emotions within the course of each 23-minute episode, and are provided with a glimpse of the multifaceted experiences faced by teens on a daily basis.  You are able to feel their joys, pain, trials and triumphs.  I can’t wait for the airing of season 3 in summer 2015!

Before then, I encourage you to check out East Los High on Hulu, so that you can see for yourself that this is not just another teen show It is a unique representation of stories that will resonate with you, despite any differences you may have with the characters.  East Los High is the embodiment of integrative action against abuse, and I hope that it will see continued growth and success in the future. 

If you are interested in learning more about the show and resources that are available, visit Eastloshigh.com for more information.