(Note: An original version of this piece said Carlos Portugal directed the film Quinceañera. That film was actually directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland.)
Ever sat in front of your television and thought: why can't that one Univision telenovela and that ABC Family teen show just combine into one crazy, exciting series I can watch in one place?
Time to flip open your laptop or settle in with a tablet because Carlos Portugal heard your plea. Earlier this week, Hulu premiered his show (which he produced and directed, co-creating with Kathleen Bedoya) East Los High, a love triangle played out by Hulu's first all-Latin cast. Portugal wanted to mesh the drama of telenovelas with the very modern issues teenagers face today, discussed in shows like Gossip Girl.
The Population Media Center, an organization that uses entertainment for health promotion, initially approached Portugal with the task of creating a show set in Southern California that would address Latina pregnancy. Portugal has lived in Los Angeles for about thirty years and chose East L.A. as the setting for his show and the filming location.
“This is a real L.A. show,” says Portugal. “It's really grounded in the culture and what L.A. is about and I'm really excited about that.”
Taking place inside a high school, the show follows cousins Maya (Alicia Marie Sixtos) and Jessie (Janine Larina) as they both fall in love with Jacob (Gabriel Chavarria). That's the only similarity the cousins share, as Maya comes from a troubled background and the innocent Jessie still retains her virginity. Things get all sorts of heated and the love triangle lands the characters in more and more danger. But Portugal makes clear the minor characters in the story also shake things up and East Los High goes to risky lengths that “a lot of Latino telenovelas would never go to.”
Adds Portugal, “It might sound like a teenage pop-y show but we really go deep with a lot of stories and the more you get invested with the story, the more layers you see.”
Portugal knows how to take risks on screen; he previously directed the film East Side Story, which touches upon homosexuality, a touchy and controversial subject in Latino culture.
To Portugal, writing TV shows proves a way to create inspiring Latino characters, especially for young viewers — like when he worked with Tyler Perry on the set of House of Payne as the only Latino writer.
“It was a joke in the studio that everybody knew which show I wrote because it always had a Latino guest star,” says Portugal. “Always in a position of power… I believe in empowerment.”
Portugal's father worked as a mailman and his mother cleaned houses when they first arrived in the United States. He sees media as a way of positively influencing youth; in fact, for East Los High, he employed many actors and writers who are just beginning their careers. They now boast a number of promising offers for future projects.
East Los High promises viewers a view of high school like they've never seen before — and Portugal assures there will be “an amazing payoff at the end.”
East Los High is now running on Hulu and Hulu Plus, with a new episode each weekday until July 3.