AFI Movie Club: MARIA FULL OF GRACE – American Film Institute
Maria Full of Grace Film Still - Catalina Sandino Moreno



Honored with an AFI AWARD in 2004, MARIA FULL OF GRACE stars Catalina Sandino Moreno as a woman forced to work as a drug mule on a treacherous journey from Colombia to the U.S.   

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Movie Trivia About MARIA FULL OF GRACE

DID YOU KNOW? Writer/director Joshua Marston developed the script for MARIA FULL OF GRACE at the Sundance Screenwriters Lab Workshop. The film marked Marston’s feature directorial debut. 


Writer/director Joshua Marston was inspired to write MARIA FULL OF GRACE after a conversation he had with a real-life drug courier – or “mule” – who transported illegal drugs inside her body. He also interviewed prisoners in jail, female flower plantation workers in Colombia and U.S. Customs inspectors, as well as Colombian immigrants living in Queens, New York. 

DID YOU KNOW? The character of Don Fernando was based on Orlando Tobón, known as the “Mayor of Little Colombia” in Queens, New York. Tobón, who also performed the role of Don Fernando in the film, raised funds for the proper family burial for more than 400 deceased drug “mules” who perished on the job, arranging for them to be returned to Colombia instead of having an anonymous and unmarked gravesite in Potter’s Field. Also credited as an associate producer, Tobón called MARIA FULL OF GRACE “an authentic depiction of a drug mule’s situation.” 

DID YOU KNOW? Although writer/director Joshua Marston was not Colombian himself, producer Paul Mezey’s father grew up in Colombia. Latin0 talent behind the camera included co-producers Rodrigo Guerrero and Jaime Osorio Gómez, who was a well-known Colombian director and also portrayed the character of Don Javier in the film.

DID YOU KNOW? Cinematographer Jim Denault had a contact at HBO and was therefore a key link in getting the movie financed. HBO did not initially intend to release the film theatrically, but the unexpected success of REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES (2003) – which also focused on the Latina experience – prompted the company to give MARIA FULL OF GRACE a national opening.   

DID YOU KNOW? More than half the cast of MARIA FULL OF GRACE was comprised of non-professional actors. Catalina Sandino Moreno, who performed the lead role, had previously performed in amateur theater and was cast after a months-long search in Colombia and the U.S. involving 800 candidates. She received an Oscar® nomination for Best Actress.   

DID YOU KNOW? Victor Macias, who produced the life-size facsimiles of heroin pellets and prop pellets used in the film, was formerly a real-life drug packer. 

DID YOU KNOW? Shooting was prohibited in Colombia after several bombings took place prior to the country’s 2002 presidential election. Venezuela was considered as an alternate until an attempted coup d’état erupted, so filming eventually took place in the Ecuadorian village of Amaguaña. 

DID YOU KNOW? MARIA FULL OF GRACE was hailed for its accuracy, with the Los Angeles Times review stating it “shows what it means to be a mule with such step-by-step completeness that it’s difficult to imagine that a documentary could be more detailed.” Writer/director Joshua Marston noted that it was his goal to “look at things from the ground up and to individualize people who usually get flattened in two dimensions in any discussion of the war on drugs.” 

DID YOU KNOW? MARIA FULL OF GRACE made its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2004. 

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The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions Join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram now using #AFIMovieClub. Or post your responses in the comment section below.

-According to writer-director Joshua Marston, MARIA FULL OF GRACE defies traditional movie tropes of drug dealers and the war on drugs by telling the story from the perspective of the “bad guys” who are involved in the trade, rather than the “good guys” who are out to stop them. Does this “ground up” approach help you empathize with Maria and the other characters in the film? What would you do if you were in her position? 

-MARIA FULL OF GRACE depicts global issues surrounding the drug trade and how they impact impoverished young women. Do you think that Maria’s goal is personal empowerment? Do you see her character as a representation of gender equality, or is she subjugated by her male-dominated society? Why must she take on the riskiest role in the system of organized crime? 

-Do you believe drug couriers or “mules” should be held as accountable for their crime as the drug lords who are using them to transport their products? How could women like Maria be better protected by the law? What could a lawyer say in her defense? 

-What impression does MARIA FULL OF GRACE give you about Colombian culture? How does it give you a new window into that country’s social fabric? Did you learn something new about Colombia and drug trafficking? 

-How does Maria’s pregnancy affect her decision to go to America? Why do you think she was willing to put her own life at risk to ensure a better future for her child? 

-While MARIA FULL OF GRACE represents Colombian characters, particularly women, its writer and director is neither Colombian nor female. Do you think this movie would have gotten made with a Latina at the helm of the production? Why is it harder for women and people of color to get financial backing to make movies, and why is it important to have wider representation? 

-How would you rate MARIA FULL OF GRACE? 

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