Netflix’s new coming-of-age dramedy, On My Block, which debuted this week, hopes to make an impact when it comes to representation on television.
Co-created by Lauren Iungerich (Awkward) and Eddie Gonzalez and Jeremy Haft (All Eyez on Me), the series assembled a cast of talented black and Latinx youth in what is many otheir first major roles. It revolves around four bright and street-savvy friends (Sierra Capri, Jason Genao, Brett Gray and Diego Tinoco) navigating their way through the triumph, pain and the newness of high school set in the fictional south-central Los Angeles neighborhood of Freeridge.
Ahead of its premiere on the streaming giant, two of the show’s stars, Capri, who plays the precocious Afro-Latina teen Monse, and Brett Gray, who plays the resident black nerd, Jamal, both spoke with Shadow and Act about the series, their characters and their thoughts about the impact of the show on its viewers.
On My Block in many ways, is different from any coming-of-age comedy-drama that we’ve seen on television. “For one, there is nothing like it on any platform,” said Capri. “(There’s not) one that shows so much diversity. It’s also not only a comedy, but it has drama. With it being a dramedy as well as a multicultural series, you see different aspects of how people of different races live and how we interact with one another, so I think it also shows people can learn from and laugh at.”
Gray added, “I think that it is very much different because we are children of color, and seeing the culture in our show, and all the characters the things they go through, and the places they want to be, that is what separates us."
On their characters, Capri says she is a bit different from hers, while Gray is similar to his.
“Monse is very headstrong. I tend to think things through. She’s also very carefree and doesn’t necessarily feel the need to do anything that is not benefitting her. She doesn’t always speak about how other people will feel or react to other things that she does. I tend to take everyone’s feelings into consideration and I just have a more subtle personality,” Capri laughed. “But we are similar in the sense that we have never been one to stick to the status quo. We don’t mind leading instead of following and doing our own thing.”
“Me and Jamal are pretty similar,” said Gray. “He’s just much more hype. But at the basis of it, we are people that have this obsession with our friends and we’re just hungry and would go the long mile to get what we want.”
Both of the young actors express how essential it is for them to bring this diverse representation to television.
Capri noted, “It’s very important. I just want to inspire young girls and women that should be proud of who they are and where they come from, regardless of skin color. I think viewers will be informed and inspired to just be proud of who they are, and that’s the main thing that I want people to take from watching the series. Them watching (me) play an Afro-Latina, girls who that aren’t represented much today. They get to have a voice and I’m glad I get to be a voice for them.”
“It is of the utmost importance,” says Gray. “It feels like it is a dream come true, to start out (on the show). Everyone in their whole career wants exciting and interesting roles where they make feel people inspired, represented and loved. We get that in On My Block. Specifically, for me as a young black man growing up in the entertainment industry, I’m sort of the only one (young black man) in everything. Now, for the first time, to be here with people my age and people of color, I felt so at home, so at ease and so comfortable being so set. So I can’t imagine what it’ll do for audiences watching.”
On things they want folks to take away from the show, both actors have poignant messages.
“You’re not alone. You always have family and friends to help you face obstacles in life. As long as you have one person you are good. If you have three like Monse in the show, then you’re even better,” said Capri. Gray had similar sentiments. “You are seen. You are heard. I want viewers to watch the show and feel as if that was them or that could be them, or that we can help them with a problem or issue they are going through. I hope that it inspires people to feel that they matter and that they are counted, being listened to and being heard.”
For potential Season 2 ideas, Gray already has an idea of what Jamal’s storyline and plot could be. “I would like to see Jamal come into his own a little bit more, grow a stronger backbone and (I would like) a storyline where we could see Jamal specifically challenged or Jamal in his community. I think that there is this balance of the African-American experience and the Latinx experience and (depicting) them being friends and how that affects both groups.”
On My Block is streaming now on Netflix.
Trey Mangum is the lead editor of Shadow & Act. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org & follow him on Twitter @TreyMangum.