Two years ago, when Diego Gutiérrez arrived in Mexico for his first project as a solo television showrunner, it wasn’t just a milestone in his career—it was a homecoming. By his early 20s, Diego had already left home twice, once to follow his older brothers Alejandro ’85 and Daniel ’87 to Fay, and then again to study film at Wesleyan University. Twenty years later, he was returning to Mexico to film Monarca, a Spanish-language show for Netflix created by him and executive produced by Salma Hayek. This homecoming was particularly sweet: “I was especially proud to be coming back to Mexico and bringing something that I had created for Mexico,” he says.
Diego’s arrival at Fay in 1988 was eye-opening. Coming from a relatively homogenous culture in Mexico City, he was suddenly living and learning alongside students from around the world. “Fay was my first real exposure to the fact that people come from incredibly different places, cultures, and perspectives,” he says.
Diego returned home for high school but was soon itching to leave again, and he spent the next four years studying film at Wesleyan University. After college, he traveled to Los Angeles intent on directing, but as fate would have it, he landed a job with a mentor who would completely alter those plans.
Diego was hired as the personal assistant to fellow Wesleyan alum Joss Whedon, who at the time was the showrunner for cult-90s hit Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In his role, Diego saw all the issues that would bombard a showrunner each day, from dealing with network executives to the wardrobe department. Joss was also a writer, and he insisted that if Diego wanted to be a visual storyteller, he had to learn how to write and tell stories. With Joss’ support and guidance, Diego spent three and a half years learning how to write and learning all he could about television production. His first writing credit was an episode of Buffy.
In the ensuing years, Diego wrote for more shows, including Dawson’s Creek, Judging Amy, The Shield, and Without a Trace, and he got as much exposure to the production side of television as possible. His new goal was to be a showrunner. “You need to understand how the entire machine works down to every department so that you can make the decisions that will keep a show running and on budget,” he says. “Showrunning would allow me to control the whole creative product.”
Six years ago, his opportunity arrived. Robert Rodriguez was launching a television adaptation of the movie From Dusk Till Dawn, and he was looking for Latino voices to bring on as co-showrunners. Diego also started to develop his own project ideas, and Netflix asked him if he would take his concept for Monarca and make it for Mexico.
Diego spent a year traveling back and forth between Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife and family, and Mexico City, where he relished the opportunity to mentor up-and-coming writers and producers. When it came time to film a second season, Diego was able to pass the baton to the team he had put in place in Mexico.
This year, Diego has been back at home in Los Angeles with his family and developing shows for different networks and studios so that he can get another shot at showrunning. It’s an interesting time to be in development as social, political, and pandemic themes are swirling. “Nobody is quite sure what people are going to want to watch a year from now,” says Diego. Should shows ignore COVID because audiences won’t want to be reminded of it, or will that feel inauthentic? For the streaming studios, their products increasingly have to play in a global market as well. Will ideas that resonate in the U.S. have the same appeal in China? And what’s the best way to include more disenfranchised and BIPOC voices in front of and behind the cameras?
Currently, Diego is developing multiple projects and focusing on concepts that reflect the many facets of the Latino experience in the United States. “I always thought of myself as a Mexican living in the United States, but the longer I live here, the harder it is getting for me to say that without reexamining it,” says Diego.
Diego believes that his bicultural experience of growing up in Mexico, attending Fay and Wesleyan, and then living and working in the United States is not that unique. Stories that reflect a mixture of cultures and backgrounds resonate with people these days. “The Latino market is not monolithic,” he notes, “and we have thousands of different stories to tell.” Diego is gratified that Hollywood is finally starting to grasp the complexity of the Latino culture. “The U.S. is my home now; it’s where my family is,” he says. “To give a voice to that bicultural experience in all its different shapes and forms is what excites me the most.”