As two young women are discussing the importance of being politically active, they mention that 27 million Latinos will be eligible to vote this year and that four million of those will be new voters.
This exchange does not take place on a news show or a political program, it happens in an episode of the Hulu original series East Los High.
An Emmy-nominated show, the series follows Latino teens navigating the trials of life in East Los Angeles. Characters are faced with real-life issues, including teen pregnancy, rape, abortion, drug dealing, cancer, homelessness and violence.
In its fourth season, the series is once again tackling timely and important issues, including immigration and political participation.
Katie Elmore Mota, co-president of Wise Entertainment and executive producer of East Los High explained the producers decision to delve into the political arena, saying, “When we started mapping out this season, we realized that we’ve covered a lot of topics but that we’ve sort of never talked about politics before. Sadly, there’s been a lot of hate speech, so we wanted to show the human side of these polarizing issues. We’re approaching it from people spouting off on news networks, but what does all of it really mean in the context of an individual, in the context of a family, when it affects you and the people that you love? The power of storytelling in scripted TV is that you can get really into it on a personal level. By doing this, we’re shedding new light on the things that are dividing people. And, we’re also, modeling ways that people can get involved, take action, and stand up for their rights. It’s a lot, but it’s all very important.”
Adding a unique facet, the producers at East Los High has partnered with two research facilities to track the effect the storyline has on the audience. “We’ve done some pre-viewing research and we’ll be following that up with post-viewing surveys as well to see how, and in what manner, this storyline may have influenced the audience,” explains Mota. “That’s something we work hard at – having an impact in some way on our viewers. We’re not about necessarily changing anyone’s mind about anything, but we want to present ideas that make people think, make choices and hopefully take action.”
Knowing that there might be some people who will simply say, ‘this is a Latino show, it’s not for me,’ Mota responds, “The amazing thing about entertainment is how it can connect us all through the humanity shown in the storylines. When you start to get to know these characters and you peel away the boxes that we put people in, the essence of our feelings and struggles are quite similar. There is something that everyone can relate to in the stories that we tell, no matter what your ethnic background.”
Speaking on the hot topic of diversity in the entertainment industry, Mota offers, “It sort of goes without saying that it’s vital to show the real make-up of society and in that respect, yes, Hollywood needs to catch up. It’s just what I said about how relatable our show is – there is no one Latino story, no one black story, no one Asian story, no one white story. There are so many stories that haven’t been told that are universal no matter who you are. Having said that, we do make an active effort to highlight those people that have been underrepresented in mainstream media to show just that – that emotions and feelings are universal. That’s what the rest of the industry needs to do. I’m glad to see that Hollywood is coming along in this area, but I really hope there will come a day when we don’t have to talk about the lack of diversity or what inclusion means so much, that these will be non-topics because there’s nothing to discuss, that action is being taken on a daily basis and it’s not something that has to be repeatedly evaluated.”
Mota insists that East Los High holds an unique place in the content world as she says, “it’s an exciting time in TV. Our show launched the same year as House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, which was back when people weren’t really sure what streaming was. And, now you have Hollywood talking about diversity and the importance of showing different cultures in the media. So I think it’s interesting that right now in Hollywood everyone is saying ‘oh we need diversity,’ and ‘oh it’s all about streaming,’ and you have East Los High in which we were doing all of these things before they were buzzwords. So in this respect, I think we’ve kind of paved the way a bit. What we’re doing not is continuing to push and challenge ourselves, and everyone in the industry, to do more and do it better.”
In a final note about the series, Mota says, “We might be this show that not everyone has heard about, that’s still slightly under the radar, but we’ve actually been hugely successful at what we do – telling stories through engaging characters. And, there are always new things happening and new points of view to explore. I think this show can have a really long life, so why not jump in now? That’s the beauty of streaming, you can start from the beginning and in no time you’ll be caught up to what we’re talking about right now in the world. Every storyline that we’ve done on the series is important in its own way, and what we’re talking about now are things that are affecting the whole country. That’s pretty big stuff and certainly important for all of us.”
All episodes of East Los High are available on Hulu.