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This story about Lauren Iungerich first appeared in The Race Begins issue of TheWrap Emmy magazine.
At first blush, Lauren Iungerich’s Netflix series “On My Block” may not bear many similarities to her breakout show, the 2011-2016 MTV comedy “Awkward.” One is set in a fictional inner-city neighborhood and deals with themes of gang violence and its effect on the lives of underprivileged youth, and the other is about a white, relatively well-off teenager from affluent Palos Verdes.
But look past the surface and both are sharp-witted, deeply personal coming-of-age stories about young teenagers — in the case of “On My Block,” black and Latino teens — trying to find their way in a world that often seems stacked against them.
For Iungerich, doing another teen dramedy was a return to form. After several unsuccessful projects that strayed from the young-adult space, she felt it was time to go back to telling the kinds of stories that resonated with her most deeply.
“I sort of lost my way in terms of what I wanted to be writing,” she said. “The most primal memories I have are of my teen years, when you’re really creating an identity.”
Bringing those memories to the screen for “Awkward,” which was loosely informed by her own life, proved especially fruitful. But after seeing nonwhite teenagers hungering for onscreen representation, Iungerich felt driven to bring more diversity to YA-oriented television — to, she said, “do something that was really aspirational.”
Aspirational and authentic was the goal. Iungerich could bring her experience and her voice as a writer, but the details about growing up in inner-city Los Angeles would have to come from elsewhere. So she brought on collaborators, including co-creators Jeremy Haft and Eddie Gonzalez, as well as a room full of writers, many new or unproven but with more experience with underserved communities.
“In our business today, there’s a lot of talk about inclusion, but people aren’t really doing it,” she said. “That means I have to mentor more, and not just get an outline or a script and rewrite it.”
With production for “On My Block” based in Los Angeles, Iungerich also had the benefit of being right next door to the people she was looking for. She found that her outreach efforts have already begun to pay off for people who might not otherwise get a shot at the Hollywood dream. “They don’t have inroads to a career in television, so let’s try to make those inroads.
“Now it’s on me and my team to say, ‘This is not going to be the only experience that you have,'” she said. “‘We are going to work with you on what you want to do, and put you in a position where you can continue this journey.'”
Read more of TheWrap Emmy magazine’s The Race Begins issue here.