‘On My Block’ Showrunner Explains How Legal Issues Around Ethnicity Complicate Casting Afro-Latino Roles

Courtesy of Netflix

Sierra Capri is excited for fans to see her character Monse on Netflix’s On My Block grow and evolve into a young woman during the show’s second season. A lot has happened to the teen and her tight-knit group of friends since the show’s freshman season ended with a shooting during Olivia’s quinceañera (played by Ronni Hawk), and Capri can’t wait for everyone to see it all play out when the show returns.

Monse and her friends are forced to deal with tragedy at an early age, something that is a common occurrence in neighborhoods like the one depicted in the coming-of-age drama created by Lauren Iungerich, Jeremy Haft, and Eddie Gonzalez, and that follows a group of friends living in Los Angeles. The aftermath won’t be pretty, but it will force the students to look inward as they make choices about their futures.

“[The shooting] changes her view on a lot of things with life in general,” Capri told Remezcla during a set visit in October. “Like who she wants to be part of her life and who shouldn’t. She will be focusing a lot more on what’s best for her this season. In season one, she definitely focused on the needs of others and that’s going to stop. The events in the season one finale influence her to focus more on what’s important, which is family. She learned that she doesn’t want to miss out on anything because you never know what could happen tomorrow.”

As Monse makes family more of a priority, she will tackle the issues of what it means to be multiracial. On the show, the character has an African-American father and a Latina mother, the latter of which has been mostly absent from her life. “We’ll learn where she fits in and also where she is accepted. That will influence a lot of the episodes after a certain point,” she explained. “There’s something that happens during season two that will change everyone’s opinion about what everyone thought they knew about her background. This season is a turning point in her life. It’s going to change her, I’m pretty sure for the rest of her life – for the good and the bad.”

Sierra Capri and Lauren lungerich on set of ‘On My Block’ season 2. Photo by Nicola Goode. Courtesy of Netflix
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Capri, who considers herself multicultural, is not Afro-Latina like her character which has brought up questions about representation in the past. Series co-creator and showrunner Lauren Iungerich explained why the young actress born in Baltimore was cast for the role. “We did the best we could in terms of casting the best people,” Iungerich said during the set visit.

“When I look at Sierra, she’s an incredible actress and she’s representing a girl who is of mixed race and I think she’s incredibly humble about it. She owns who she is and she’s not trying to pretend anything. This is truly the hardest part for us, because we legally can’t ask about someone’s ethnicity. These are very important stories to tell, of these mixed race kids who really do struggle between two [cultures]. Especially in a neighborhood where the races are incredibly at odds with each other. That was an extremely interesting and powerful story for us to tell. It’s unfortunate that we can’t do a better job, basically putting that thread through the needle in the most perfect way. We really did the best we could to bring these characters to life, the truest possible way to represent who these kids are.”

Capri is proud of her work on On My Block and says she relates to her character in many ways. She hopes that viewers are able to learn from Monse’s struggles, as she has.

“I never had a show like this growing up, in the sense that I’m multicultural and growing up I didn’t know that I wasn’t that accepted by either side. Even though I was in different circumstances, I did have both parents in my household; I still faced a lot of the challenges that Monse faces so I can identify with her in a lot of ways.

I even had that group on my block that were family as well as my friends. I would do anything for them, and until this day I’m still close to them. I feel that a lot of people can relate to this show because it’s a family show that you can watch and feel like it’s home. I think everyone is going to be happy this season while watching her journey. I’m proud of her and how far she’s come. I can’t wait for everyone to watch it.”