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Sexy Lessons: East Los High CoCreator Kathleen Bedoya Explores Real-Life Issues in a Telenovela Format

Nov 06, 2014

PMC has pasted the text of this article here. See original post in Latina Magazine.

By Celina Shatzman.

Alarmed by Latinas’ teen pregnancy rate–the heights of any major U.S. ethnic group–Colombian American TV Exec Kathleen Bedoya concluded that reaching young people required something more alluring than the usual sex-education lectures. So she partnered with the Population Media Center to create the steamy original Hulu series East Los High, which debuted in 2013 along with a lively social-media component. The popular all-Latino English-language drama has been green lighted for a third season in 2015. And while Bedoya doesn’t take credit for it, the government recently reported declines in the pregnancy rate for Latinas ages 15 to 19. Bedoya takes us behind the scenes of her groundbreaking project.

What makes East Los High different?

We’re able to combine the interesting parts of a typical telenovla format with real-life social issues. Combining those three creates a new genre- its a hybrid that’s really fun bt also has a social element. We work with all these amazing partners, such as Planned Parenthood and RAINN [the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network]. We consult with them when writing the show and they give us feedback and tell us if there is anything inaccurate.

Why did you focus on Latinas and teen pregnancy?

The funding we got for season one was specifically for issues relating to sexual health and reproductive justice. You can’t talk about teen pregnancy without talking about healthy relationships, abuse, and dropout rates. In season two, teen pregnancy wasn’t the only issue -it was about domestic violence and sexual abuse. The issues grow out of the characters’ lives so that if feels like a natural thing happening to them. We present many different issues in the story, not only for dramatic purposes but also so that viewers can go to our website, where there are links to resources. We treat none of these issues in a black-and-white way. Were not passing judgment; we’re not religiously associated-we want to tell youth what their options are and let them make their own decisions. The characters decide what they want to do and viewers see the role modeling.

Do many people actually follow the links to further information and resources?

Yes. For example, Planned Parenthood’s widgets pop up on the episodes and relate to the show. In just the first month of season one, we had over 30,000 visitors to those widgets, and 50% were new to Planned Parenthood. That’s a lot of traffic.

From how they dress to how they talk, the characters are very real. How do you make the show so relatable?

If viewers don’t see something they believe and relate to, there’s no chance of any change in social behavior. That was very important goal. We do a lot of research, because there are no other Latino shows like ours. We spent a lot of tie talking to kids in that age group. I went to my old high school in New Jersey, which is 90 percent Latino. Many of the show’s writers are Latino and we to school in East L.A. and elsewhere in California. Many things change in our community, but a lot doesn’t, like what [kids are] going through emotionally. We might not all speak Spanish, but the core experience is very similar.

Why did you think a TV show–as opposed to more traditional sex-ed tactics–would be an effective teaching tool?

The most powerful media in the world is television. What kids watch heavily impacts how they behave. You could visit one school at a tome, read one book at a time, but with a television show you have a massive audience and kids talking to each other on social media, and that has been really powerful.

How does the show resonate with you?

I feel very blessed to write about these things because it’s my life experience. Every character that we write, we know someone like that. In the writers’ room we have such a good time because we are pulling from personal experience. When you write form what you know, it tends to come out more real.