At first blush what you have is yet another teen drama series, “East Los High,” which incorporates the typical touchstones of “sex, romance, and mystery.”
The series takes place in an inner-city Los Angeles high school and features two cousins, both of whom fall in love with a football player named Jacob.
The 24 episodes chronicle a year in the lives of Jessie, the good-girl virgin, and Maya, the rebellious runaway, as they struggle with teen pressures and face life-altering decisions. Part of the plot, not surprisingly, involves Jessie’s transformation from a naive youth to a sexually-motivated young woman.
But there’s controversy surrounding Hulu’s first exclusive show in English with a Latino cast…and it lies in what may be the motivations of its producers and sponsors.
What is the deeper purpose behind “East Los High”?
Here’s the trailer (Warning: controversial themes and images):
And the Sponsors Are…
The original series is backed by the nonprofit Population Media Center, which says it looks to promote “positive behavior change among the audience.” PMC’s web site also explains that the organization was among the first to implement “new methodologies for informing people about reproductive health issues….”
Some of the show’s more notable sponsors include California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, California Family Health Council, and Planned Parenthood, among others.
A Subliminal Sell
The technique known as the Sabido method (after Miguel Sabido, former Vice President for Research at Televisa in Mexico who developed the method in the 1970s using Spanish telenovelas) employs drama and allure as means of communicating a deeper message to viewers; it is the preferred method of the PMC.
As the PMC website explains, “Change is the key to the Sabido methodology.”
“Characters may begin the series exhibiting the antithesis of the values being taught, but through interaction with other characters, twists and turns in the plot, and sometimes even outside intervention, come to see the value of the program’s underlying message.”
“You start out with a very salacious soap opera and get them in,” said show writer Evangeline Ordaz in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “Then hit them up with, ‘If you’re going to have sex, be responsible.'”
What Critics Say
But how effectively has “East Los High” been educating teens about the consequences of adolescent promiscuity?
According to a recent World magazine article, it may in fact be achieving the opposite: “This show promotes promiscuity, risky behavior, and self-destructive choices, tied together with a glitzy, seductive bow,” the article claims.
Drawing parallels to popular teen soaps like “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” episodes conclude with a PSA of sorts, directing viewers to web sites and resources that provide information about issues issues such as teen pregnancy. Both shows also support Stay Teen, an organization founded by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
The show’s web site also features multiple Planned Parenthood ads and informational resources for birth control, abortion, and STDs. Ads for Plan B morning after pills air during commercial breaks.
World magazine adds:
Valerie Huber, president and CEO of the National Abstinence Education Association said the show sends damaging messages, especially for Hispanic teens who already have high rates of teen pregnancy: “This show is definitely normalizing teen sex, and is encouraging sexual experimentation.” She said the underlying message of “You are not popular without sex” sends a dangerous signal to teens already pounded with sexual pressure.
Huber stated her belief that “East Los High” employs a Planned Parenthood method of targeting minorities to advance a socially and morally liberal agenda.
“East Los High” became a top-10 Hulu show during its premiere month, and as the Hollywood Reporter notes, it’s the top Hulu show for Latino viewers.
(H/T: World Mag)