It’s rare that we see a television show highlighting minority neighborhoods and the violence that takes place within them. If we did see a show on these topics, however, we would only hope that it would be well-executed and accurately document the struggles that people living in such conditions endure.
Netflix’s On My Block had the potential to be just this kind of groundbreaking TV series, and while its premise was innovative and unique, it failed to live up to what it was trying to accomplish. Amidst an extremely cringe-worthy script and poor casting choices, On My Block is simply not worth the watch.
The show begins with the story of four friends entering high school: Monse Finnie (Sierra Capri), Cesar Diaz (Diego Tinoco), Jamal Turner (Brett Gray) and Ruby Martinez (Jason Genao), all being African-American or Latino. Ruby’s family friend Olivia (Ronni Hawk) joins them in the second episode, becoming Ruby’s love interest although she is portrayed to be out of his league.
Monse and Cesar experience a running romance that is never consolidated into a relationship, due to Cesar’s involvement in his local gang along with his frightening older brother, Oscar or “Spooky”. Jamal would remain irrelevant to us throughout the show if not for his ongoing quest, with some help from Ruby’s abuela to find hidden money in their fictional hometown of Freeridge, California.
The plot itself was expertly crafted on behalf of its writers. Every one of the young friends on the show are in it together to save their friend Cesar from being sucked into his brother’s gang. Everything about it would be entertaining and very well executed, if not for the poor craft of its dialogue.
In the opening scene, for example, the writers decided to make the kids joke about guessing the caliber of the bullet when they’re running away from gunshots at a party.
Yes, guns are a part of everyday life in these kinds of neighbourhoods. But are 14-year-old children really going to be laughing and joking when there is a weapon in close range of them that can take their lives? Anyone would be terrified regardless of their situation, and this is just an unrealistic, and nearly insulting, portrayal of gun violence in marginalized neighbourhoods.
Additionally, high school is made up to be like some sort of life-or-death situation, where kids have to stick together in order to survive. In the first episode, for example, Ruby’s brother, Mario, holds a conversation with the children to impress upon them the importance of sticking together. Later in the show, Monse stresses about not letting anything dissolve their “crew.”
In reality, friends change throughout high school and it has nothing to do with “survival.” Additionally, these kids probably have more important things on their minds than high school social circles.
To continue, one of the biggest problems that the creators of the show as a whole fostered was the casting of Ronni Hawk as Olivia, a Latina girl who is living with Ruby because her parents were deported to Mexico. Ronni Hawk is playing a character, however, that has views in complete contrast to her own.
According to an April 26 Buzzfeed News article, fans had uncovered past tweets by Hawk that contained pro-Trump comments and anti-gun control ones.
Given that a good amount of On My Block’s material deals with gun violence, this is inexcusable on behalf of the creators. In addition, Trump’s immigration policies, particularly for Latinos, are very well known, and thus Hawk is playing a character who experiences a life in complete contrast to her own beliefs.
Ronni Hawk’s acting itself doesn’t allow her to be representative of the Latina girl she is playing, regardless of being white. For whatever the reason, the script writers decided that Hawk should speak Spanish, and the entire believability of the show and its premise was taken from its viewers.
It is evident that the actress they chose to play Olivia in no way speaks Spanish, and even the Spanish words themselves translate oddly because it is not a commonly used phrase. Children want to see people like themselves represented in the media, and the creators of On My Block single-handedly ruined this dream for them by casting Ronni Hawk.
On the other hand, the creators were successful in creating a seamless plot with various cliffhangers and quirky subplots. Character development is also one of the show’s primary takeaways, with each character evolving into a new and very different version of themselves by the end of the season. However, it is hard to look past all of these successes when the show has poor acting, scripting and casting.
On My Block may be worth the watch, if a viewer is willing to look past its drawbacks and focus on its phenomenal plot. Many of the best shows on television, however, started out with sub-par scripting, casting and acting, after which the actors of the show and its creators were able to evolve immensely to create an amazing television experience altogether. So, we can only hope that for On My Block this is the case. Because if all of these aspects were improved, we may be witnessing a revolution for Netflix and for television as a whole, bringing to light the life of minorities in marginalized neighborhoods that are not typically represented to us.