If you haven’t watched On My Block, you’re missing out. Hopefully, I can convince you to drop everything and go watch it. Then go tell your friends to watch it.
Every once in a while I get a weekend free of obligations and don’t leave my apartment. The last time I did this (roughly a few weeks ago) I stumbled upon the gem that is On My Block. At first glance the show appeared to be some Netflix creation about high school students, which honestly doesn’t sound overly appealing when I could have just rewatched The Ranch or Parks and Rec. Then a commercial played before another show I tried to watch (obviously, it didn’t matter or impact my life in anyway otherwise I would be writing about that show). I didn’t give the commercial much of my attention, but in the brief seconds it did have my attention, it got me very interested. I proceeded to start watching this show about a rambunctious group of high schoolers in L.A.
Who cares about a show about some kids who live in a rough neighborhood? Well, the kids that don’t live in great neighborhoods in real life. To see oneself portrayed in a positive light in the media is a beautiful thing. Did I not mention that the cast is pretty much all brown? The main characters are not only brown and in tough situations, but make the best of the hand they’re dealt (for the most part). The writers kept a storyline that could be fairly dark upbeat and charming with excellent lines and quality characters. And if you understand some of the cultural moments, your appreciation for the show will only grow.
Of course, at this point we have come to expect quality shows from Netflix after Jessica Jones, Stranger Things, Black Mirror, Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, and Longmire. The thing is, many shows from Netflix don’t necessarily center the experience of people of color while also portraying them positively. I like OITNB as much as the next person, but no one can really say that a show about women in prison really show Black or Latina women in the best light. OMB gets at the experiences of people of color in lower socioeconomic brackets without making everyone out to be a thug, drug addict, pimp, or whatever else America thinks of lower income folks who happen to have some melanin. Yes, in OMB there is a gang, fighting, guns, drinking, and a minor who tries to find a hidden fortune (some Goonies level stuff) which involves some questionable behaviors. However, much of the story shows three friends trying to stop their other friend from joining a gang and getting into trouble. Additionally, the story shows how multidimensional characters of color can and should be portrayed. White characters are given solid character development in other shows and writers throw in a POC to seem “woke” and really just give us the same POC character repacked and repurposed for different shows. Live your best life writers who want to write about white people and the white perspective, those of us who want to see ourselves represented as more than the sidekick or token friend of color will be over here watching shows like OMB and Jane the Virgin.
Representation matters (I say this phrase at least once a week,) and OMB is one of those shows right now that gets what that truly means. Representation does not just mean having a visually diverse cast for the sake of having a visually diverse cast when the plot of the show/movie focuses on the narrative and experience of white characters. Re-centering the narrative to bring that of groups on the fringe into focus gets at representation. I don’t care if I see someone Black on a show or movie if that character is not developed or is there to check a box (yes, Hollywood, we can tell when you’re doing this.) But when I see a show or movie where the writers were intentionally trying focus on the experience of a character of color, I’m about it. This isn’t to say stop having people of color in movies and on shows, because we can’t go back to shows being like Friends where they live in New York City and almost no people of color are on the show (as someone who has been to NYC I can say there are many not white people there). At the same time, Hollywood needs to work harder at developing and giving substance to those characters of color to fully commit to representation in the media.
Why do you care and how does it relate to OMB? I am so happy you asked. As I said before, OMB mostly shows Latinx and Black characters navigating high school in a not great part of L.A. while also being good kids. Some people may think kids in under-served communities might all be ready to join a gang and get pregnant. Those people are wrong and have probably never interacted with someone different from themselves. They are also probably ignorant. A way to help their ignorance is to have them watch OMB to get some iota of an understanding of the experience of people of color. While this show will not really give them a full understanding, they may come to realize not everyone on tv is white and people who live in low-income neighborhoods are people too (I know, this could be a stretch, but I like to think sheeple learn best when the majority of the work of breaking down stereotypes is done for them).
The dismantling of stereotypes in this show is a top reason to watch. If you’re happy assigning certain behaviors to certain groups of people, then maybe avoid OMB. If seeing the underdog win makes you happy, get on this bandwagon with me. If you want to feel like your heart is being ripped out of your chest while watching a season finale, then this show is most definitely for you. If you’re looking for ways to get more “woke” as the kids say, then go to Netflix and watch this show.