Cast of ‘On My Block’ Spinoff ‘Freeridge’ Talks Representation & the Power of Storytelling

It’s been two years since Netflix’s hit comedy-drama show On My Block released its fourth and final season and fans said goodbye to an era of friendship, mysteries, and unprecedented representation of Black and brown characters on TV

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Freeridge. (L to R) Keyla Monterroso Mejia as Gloria, Bryana Salaz as Ines, Tenzing Trainor as Cameron, Ciara Riley Wilson as Demi in episode 101 of Freeridge. Cr. Kevin Estrada © 2022

It’s been two years since Netflix’s hit comedy-drama show On My Block released its fourth and final season and fans said goodbye to an era of friendship, mysteries, and unprecedented representation of Black and brown characters on TV. Originally premiering in 2018, the show received critical acclaim for its diversity, performances, and messages throughout its run. The series finale, while bittersweet, also hinted at a possible spin-off with a new “core four” set in the same universe by featuring them in a brief cameo in the last scene of OMB. Now, after a long wait, fans can finally watch the first season of Freeridgewhich follows a new quartet of friends in the fictitious L.A. city of Freeridge as they tackle high school, first love, and a mysterious curse. The spin-off is just as dedicated to diversity with a Latinx, Asian, and queer cast including Keyla Monterroso Mejia (Abbott Elementary), Bryana Salaz (Team Kaylie), Ciara Riley Wilson (Kim Possible), and Tenzing Norgay Trainor (Boo, Bitch), all while honoring its predecessor.

[On My Block] did so much for me in a time where I really needed it, not only personally, but also as an actress, it gave me so much motivation,” Keyla Monterroso Mejia, who plays Freeridge‘s main protagonist Gloria, tells HipLatina. “I saw myself in Jessica Marie Garcia. It was such a great show and they did a wonderful job talking about topics in a way that appealed to teenagers. So the opportunity to be a part of something like this is just insane.”

“I’d never seen a show quite like it,” adds Ciara Riley Wilson, who plays Gloria’s best friend Demi. “We all feel really honored to carry on that legacy in our own new way.”

Freeridge. (L to R) Keyla Monterroso Mejia as Gloria, Ciara Riley Wilson as Demi, Tenzing Trainor as Cameron, Bryana Salaz as Ines in episode 101 of Freeridge. Cr. Kevin Estrada © 2022

The first season of Freeridge hinges on this careful balance between paying homage to the original while also telling a new story and showcasing a different corner of Freeridge in an effort to do its own thing. Instead of finding the Rollerworld money and exploring the looming danger of gang violence, this core four works to reverse a curse from a mysterious old box with the inscription “MM” that Gloria finds at a neighbor’s yard sale. This causes a domino effect of unfortunate events in each of the friends’ lives, threatening to tear them apart from each other and their families. In doing so, however, they have run-ins with members of the original cast who appear in hilarious cameos and engage with the familiar but strange supernatural elements from OMB. Still, while comparisons with the OG cast and show are inevitable, the spin-off characters stand alone as entirely their own complex, flawed people, influenced in part by their respective identities and personalities, and have changed the actors who play them for the better.

“It’s not always easy to be so expressive with your emotions and Cam is definitely not,” says Tenzing Norgay Trainor, who plays Cameron. “But I like his relatability and how forgiving he is. He goes through a lot with people and his ability to always stay strong and loyal to these people is really admirable.”

Mejia agrees, adding, “I’m a bit more shy and reserved in real life than my characters are. I’m so blessed to be able to come and be these really confident, empowered girls because I think sometimes it’s a little hard for me personally. It has taught me to adopt some of that and stand up for myself and say what’s on my mind and speak how I feel. I learned a lot from Gloria, she’s done a lot for me.”

Part of Gloria’s charm (and one of the main highlights of the show) is seeing Mejia’s on-screen chemistry with Bryana Salaz, who plays Gloria’s little sister Ines. From the get-go, it’s obvious why the sisters don’t get along, as each of their flaws—from compulsive lying to quick tempers to love for physical fights—leads to immense amounts of pain, insecurity, and misunderstandings on both sides. But because the audience gets to see each girl’s perspective and see what they’re going through, it’s impossible not to sympathize with both and ultimately cheer for their reconciliation. Thankfully, Mejia and Salaz’s relationship behind the scenes could not have been a more positive sisterly bond, to the point of “almost taking it too far,” Salaz jokes.

“[Keyla] has pushed me so much as an actor and I feel like I grew so much and became a better actor in every scene that we worked together,” she says. “She was there for me when I was struggling with lines and never got frustrated with me. We helped each other through so much and I’m so grateful.”

“When I’m in scenes with [Bryana], she brings something out of me as an actress that I think is rare and it’s so much fun to be able to get to play in these scenes with her,” Mejia adds, referencing the multiple scenes throughout the season where Ines causes Gloria to erupt into angry, shouting monologues.

However, one entirely original aspect that Freeridge brings to the table is the depiction of queer love and gay relationships, which gives the show fresh nuance and rejects the “traditional” coming-of-age love story in a new way. While Cameron is the only queer character in the main cast this season, it was gratifying for Salaz on a personal level to see that positive representation on-screen at all.

“Being lesbian and coming out three years ago, I felt like I had to suppress it growing up because it was not something that those in my culture look at in the light that I would’ve liked to have come out in,” she says. “I didn’t have any of that representation growing up. I didn’t have anyone who looked like me. The only character that I remember was Santana from Glee. She was the only person that I saw who looked like me and who was experiencing these feelings that I didn’t understand. Now, I feel very, very grateful to be a part of a show that is bringing light to those topics, especially for kids because no one knows how hard it is navigating through that in high school. It’s a huge honor.”

As diverse as OMB was, on-screen Asian representation was also notably absent from its main and supporting cast, following a tradition of media erasing that experience from mainstream storytelling. This made Wilson’s role as Demi, who is canonically Filipino, that much more important and groundbreaking in the Freeridge universe and Hollywood at large.

“Growing up, I didn’t see myself in any media, so I didn’t really understand the importance of representation, I didn’t get it,” she says. “Now, with all the incredible Asian American actors and even amongst sexualities too, it’s an emotional response. You can’t put it into words. You’re like, ‘Oh my god, that’s me. That makes sense. I feel like I can do that too. I feel seen. That’s my story.’ But you don’t understand until you see it, which is why it’s so important to tell so many different stories.”

And yet, Freeridge is much more than the incredible representation it offers. At its heart, the show tells a story of friendship, family, sisterhood, hard choices, and the destinies of our lives both in and out of the supernatural realm that is both moving and necessary. Who really controls our fates, the show asks, the universe or ourselves? Is freewill just an act of imagination? And who do we hurt when we go after what we want? It all just so happens to be elevated by a cast with diverse identities and experiences that feels authentic and genuine rather than a check-list or quota, allowing queer and BIPOC characters to take up space in an otherwise white-dominated industry and tell their own stories. Mejia notes:

I’m grateful now to be a part of something that represents so many people and hopefully we  get to be that inspiration for someone else. We are all so different so it’s not just one story being shown, but many. That’s really cool and rare.

Season 1 of Freeridge is now available to stream on Netflix.

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