GS Alumna Uses Leadership Role to Diversify Narratives in Television
Debra Moore Muñoz ‘11GS, co-executive producer and writer on FX’s show Mayans MC, is a rare Latina in a leadership role within television. She shares how her GS education helped prepare her for a demanding but rewarding career, and her advice for GS students and alumni interested in the entertainment industry.
As a co-executive producer and writer on FX’s Mayans MC, Debra Moore Muñoz ‘11GS is a rare Latina in a leadership role within television. Moore Muñoz is using her career success to advocate for increased diversity in her industry and to work on stories that center the perspectives of historically marginalized communities. “Showing perspectives that we don’t normally get to see is something that endlessly fascinates me, and I think it’s also the power of storytelling in general,” shared Moore Muñoz, “but more specifically the power of television because you get to spend all this time with these characters. You get to really understand their perspective.”
“Showing perspectives that we don’t normally get to see is something that endlessly fascinates me, and I think it’s also the power of storytelling in general.”
Growing up in a blue collar Mexican-Italian American family in East Los Angeles, Moore Muñoz discovered her love of storytelling early. Initially, she channeled that love into an involvement in theater, even dipping her toes into the acting business after graduating from high school. For a couple of years, Moore Muñoz worked full-time while attending Fullerton Community College, but as she put it, “working and living took over” and school took a backseat for the time being.
During that same period, Moore Muñoz discovered her passion for writing and she relocated to Portland to connect with the independent film scene. It was in Portland—while bartending, accumulating filmmaking experience, and taking classes at Portland State University—that Moore Muñoz was contacted by a GS representative and encouraged to apply. “One day there was just this magical envelope that showed up on my door!” she recalled.
The innate pull to seize this opportunity became a driving force. “I had always loved school and it was this hole in my life that I hadn’t actually finished college. It was something I’d always wanted to do,” she said. Despite her excitement at the chance GS presented, there was also hesitation. “I think like many GS students, I felt like I had no business going to Columbia,” she shared. “Especially for someone with my background…going to an Ivy League felt really outside of what was normal or what was possible.”
Fortunately, Moore Muñoz decided to take the leap and when she arrived at Columbia, she credits the GS administration with helping to quell her self-doubts. “The beautiful thing about GS is they understand the communities from which they are pulling people and there is such a huge emphasis on ‘We understand that you feel like you don’t belong here, but you do belong here,’” she shared. “That constant reinforcement was really helpful.”
“For me, in my writing and in my career, there’s before GS and after GS because I came out an entirely different person in all the best ways.”
Looking back on her GS experience, Moore Muñoz expressed profound gratitude for all that it gave her, even with—and perhaps because of—the challenging nature of the program. “It was such a fertile time for me in terms of the way my understanding of storytelling grew and the way my understanding of myself grew,” she recalled. “For me, in my writing and in my career, there’s before GS and after GS because I came out an entirely different person in all the best ways.”
The time management skills Moore Muñoz developed at GS are something she draws on even now in her busy career. As co-executive producer on Mayans MC, she runs the writer’s room, supervises production and filming, and sits in on the editing process, sometimes all at the same time. “It’s intense, it’s crazy, but it’s also amazing,” she said. “I think there is something similar about the energy of a super intense program like the one at Columbia; if you can thrive in that environment, you'll probably thrive in a production environment!”
Besides her work on Mayans MC, Moore Muñoz is also developing a variety of other television and film projects, including one focused on corporate America’s shaping of women’s beauty standards in the United States, and is interested in pursuing directing opportunities. No matter what role she takes on, Moore Muñoz is constantly committed to diversifying representation in the entertainment industry, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. “It’s a huge problem,” she said of the lack of Latina representation in her industry, citing an absence of opportunities and a failure to proactively recruit from diverse communities as major causes of this dearth of diverse talent.
However, leaders like Moore Muñoz are stepping up to mentor future talent from a young age and call out structures within their industry for failing to step up to the plate. “Myself and my boss [Mayans MC showrunner Elgin James] always say that we want the next generation, we want it to be easier for them than it was for us. It’s really incumbent on us to hold the door open behind us.”
“If this is your passion, stay committed. It will get hard, but it will pay off.”
Asked what advice she would give to GS students and alumni interested in getting involved in the entertainment industry, Moore Muñoz joked “If there’s anything else you want to do, go do that! Because this is really hard and it takes a long time sometimes to get where you want to be.”
However, with hard work and dedication, success can follow. “If this is your passion, stay committed. It will get hard, but it will pay off,” she advised. “Do whatever you can to get exposure to the industry and to start meeting people. Especially for GS students—if you are in GS, you are probably a really exceptional person. It’s just a matter of getting in front of the people who make the decisions so that they can see how exceptional you are.”