What Makes “On My Block” Stand Out?

Back to Article
Back to Article

What Makes “On My Block” Stand Out?

Thania Salinas, Reporter

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

On My Block has become Netflix’s newest sensation over the past year, creating a massive audience whose eyes have been opened to the struggles and realities in the lives of teenagers. The original series includes a diverse cast consisting of Black and Latinx high school students, sticking together through everyday difficulties. The show is set in the fictional city of Freeridge in South Central Los Angeles, which is filled with violence and substantially controlled by local gangs. Though On My Block is considered to be a “comedy-drama,” it deals with heavy issues that adolescents conquer on a daily basis such as: family struggles, violence, puberty, loyalty, and the importance of friendship. Although it is no secret that On My Block is not the first series to bring some these issues to life, it is unique and special in the way it represents what it is like to live as a minority growing up.

The group of friends spends the majority of their time in the show together, yet they individually face struggles which are essential to the development of the story. For instance, 15-year old Cesar Diaz, portrayed by Diego Tinoco, finds himself enthralled in gang violence, having to choose between becoming a gangbanger like the rest of his family, or leading a normal high school student life. This leads to recurring to his best friends who are not only willing to help him escape crime and violence, but teach each other valuable lessons along the way.

The beauty of On My Block is that it simply is real. It touches on subjects that are not frequently seen in television today, shining a light on difficulties that are at times swept under the rug. While it is comical and captivating, it also portrays the painful realities young teenagers are forced to face at some point in their lives. A major reason the series has become such a hit is the representation for young people of color it depicts. With a main lead of Latinx and African-American teenagers, the show includes representation for Latin, more specifically Mexican, culture as it is seen through quinceañeras, a great deal of Spanish dialogue, as well as including the realities of what it is like to live in a Hispanic household.

As I mentioned earlier, the honest representation for POC in the original series quickly became a major factor for its success. It has become a hot topic amongst teenagers today, especially those of color. Junior Nicole Sandoval, a high school student who found representation with counterpart Ruby Martinez, a Mexican character in the show, expresses, “The show truly portrays the life of a regular Hispanic family like Ruby’s. Sometimes, when I’m watching it with my sister, we find that we can relate to much of it, especially because Ruby’s mom is so similar to ours.” When asked how she felt regarding the show emphasizing heavy issues such as violence and life as a minority, she expressed,  “I think the show does a great job at portraying crucial issues, and I think some people can actually relate to them in comparison to the over dramatization a lot of other shows do.”

Although the show provides representation for young minorities, Junior Timothy Hakes expresses that while he is not a person of color himself, he has been able to learn about the struggles they face and learn about their lives and cultures. “The show teaches me more about what they all go through.” He continues by explaining how even though he spends a lot of time with people of color, he has been able to learn about their struggles in depth: “With a majority of my friends being minorities, I am able to see things that they go through portrayed in the show.”

Even the cast of the show itself recognize the importance of creating a show that touches on subjects not often represented in popular culture today and including diverse racial representation. In an interview with BuzzFeed News regarding the Netflix series, Brett Gray, who plays Jamal Turner in the show, explains with honesty: “I hope young people of our ethnicity can feel comfortable that there are people on TV representing them.”

On My Block is a show that has captivated the hearts of many viewers in a short period of time, and its huge success may encourage future representation of topics young people encounter in their daily lives. From its storylines of falling in love for the first time to illustrating how violence and family struggles affect the lives of adolescents, this show is unique in many ways. The writers and directors took a giant leap of faith by creating something completely new, providing a generation with life lessons such as those of unconditional friendship and loyalty. It is also a prime example of how people with contrasting backgrounds are able to come together as one when adversity knocks on the door. Although personal preference will essentially determine whether a viewer sticks by the show or not, anyone is able to appreciate its authenticity and ethnic representation.