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Soap Operas Can Save the World

Jul 19, 2013

From the Pacific Standard

July 2, 2013

Meet Jessie, a shy Latina teen in East Los Angeles who just wants to survive chemistry class, help out her single mom, and escape high school still a member of what she and her best friend call “the virgins’ club.” High-school society, unfortunately, has other plans.

Jessie is at the winter ball when she steals a dance with Jacob—the super- hot quarterback of the football team. Sparks fly, and Jessie is soon caught in a tempestuous love triangle with Jacob and his queen-bee girlfriend, Vanessa. So when an iPhone sex tape of Vanessa starts circulating, who could be to blame but Jessie?

Welcome to East Los High, a soap opera for young adults that debuts this June on Hulu. Filmed in L.A. and written in a slangy mix of English and Spanish, the show follows a handful of Latino teenagers as they preen, flirt, and brawl their way through high school. Between dance-offs, drive-bys, and grinding hip-hop soundtrack, casual viewers might think they were watching MTV.

But East Los High is funded by Population Media Center, a Vermont-based non-profit that produces “pro-social” radio dramas in developing countries around the world. The shows address issues like family planning, maternal health, and HIV transmission. East Los High is Population Media’s first foray into both America and the Web. Whether the series bombs or goes viral depends on how well it weaves its do-right messages together with believable characters and compelling screenwriting.

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