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UB researcher plunges into hot teen webnovela

The popular teen drama series "East Los High" follows the lives of teenagers growing up in East Los Angeles.


Published October 3, 2013

Hua (Helen) Wang

Armed with a one-year, $56,265 grant from the Population Media Center,  Hua (Helen) Wang, UB assistant  professor of communication,  is about to dive into Hulu’s popular teen Latino webnovela “East Los High.”

Wang; her collaborator Arvind Singhal, Samuel Shirley and Edna Holt Marston Endowed Professor of Communication at the University of Texas at El Paso; and their team will work with the show’s Hollywood writers, producers and their NGO partners to assess viewers’ narrative experience, the effectiveness of webnovela and transmedia entertainment formats, dynamics among the series’ fans on social media and positive changes this show has provoked in Latino communities all across the country.

In particular, they will evaluate whether the series and its associated social media are changing knowledge, attitudes and behaviors about safe sex and teen-pregnancy prevention among young Latinos in the United States.

“East Los High” is an addictive, 2013 teen drama series with an all-Latino cast that reflects, from the American Latino perspective, the lives, conundrums and scandals of teenagers growing up in gritty East Los Angeles.

In addition to the series itself, the show’s website features a number of entertaining interactive transmedia extensions, from additional scenes, newspaper articles and blogs, to dance tutorials, cooking recipes and discussions of Latino and local culture in East LA.

The stories have a “real” feel to them—no stereotypes allowed. The characters are complex, the plots intense and contemporary—and often steamy—and replete with twists and turns, montages, quick cutaways, pop music and other telenovela devices.

The result is a juicy watch. Taken with its website—and its feast of self-referential links—one episode could keep fans occupied for an entire afternoon, or 20, and provoke identification and debate in its audience.

Wang’s current research focuses on the relationships between new media, social networks, health/wellness and social change.  

The grant-funding NGO Population Media Center works worldwide to promote the use of entertainment education to encourage positive changes in behavior.