An analysis of Manny Santos from ‘Degrassi: The Next Generation’
By Sonam Kaloti, Arts Editor
We’ve all crushed on a total douchebag at one point or another. The extent to which we will get them to pay attention to us varies. However, one iconic character in TV history pulled a full 180 and got attention from the entire world due to her efforts: Manny Santos.
Manuella (Manny) Santos, played by Cassie Steele, is a main character in Degrassi: The Next Generation from season one until the end of season nine.
Initially, Manny is the sweetheart sidekick to Emma Nelson (Miriam McDonald). Manny is cutesy, dimpled, and shy. However, once her desires begin to take shape, she is determined and ready to change.
Her character progress begins with her joining of the Spirit Squad led by Paige Michalchuk (Lauren Collins), the “Queen Bee” of Degrassi High. Manny then goes on to fall for Craig Manning (Jake Epstein) but is harshly rejected after their first date.
Then arrives Sulley, a shallow soccer player from a rival school, who catches Manny’s eye. Manny goes on to ask Paige if she thought Sulley could be attracted to her, to which Paige responds that Sulley isn’t into girls like her, but that she could name ten guys that Manny would be cute with. This started a fire in Manny who took Paige’s advice into her own hands, later saying, “I wanna be hot! Not cute. Not adorable. HOT!”
Manny then came to school wearing the most iconic outfit to grace our early 2000s TV screens: a visible blue rhinestone-bejeweled thong under low-rise tight jeans and a promiscuous top, causing her to be ogled at by the entire school. This also earned her the reputation of “school slut.”
Although, through all of Manny’s rollercoasters of relationships, obsessions, fights, and drama, she posed as a fantastic role model. No, she is not necessarily someone whose footsteps should be followed—but she is someone who has made big mistakes and learned from them and got past them. She also fought for herself and her own dignity when nobody else did.
In an interview with Elle, Steele said, “I think everybody wants to feel sexy and attractive and Manny Santos embodied what it meant to be bold at that age when you’re discovering your sexuality and you’re discovering who you are—I feel like she symbolized that.”
Personally, I believe that being in high school is the worst. Your hormones are going wild, you’re making terrible decisions—whether they be rebellious or just plain stupid—and you’re trying to figure out who you are and where you fit into the world, whilst surrounded by viciously judgemental peers.
Degrassi has always been aimed at tackling real-life issues that teenagers face that often have a stigma around them. With its controversial topics, the show is asking: if we can’t talk about it on TV, then how are we ever going to deal with it in real life?
Another of Manny’s episodes, “Accidents Will Happen,” has her face an unwanted teenage pregnancy at 14, butting heads with the would-be father about their game plan (he wanted to keep it), and eventually getting an abortion. This episode was banned in the US for two and a half years. Yet it opened up an important and crucial conversation—as many Degrassi plots do—with the purpose of normalizing these big issues so we can expose teenagers to solutions which can simplify their lives (especially useful when everything feels like the end of the world.) Cue: “Whatever it takes I know I can make it through!”