Are the makers of Bella trimming their sails? I can't tell. They might be telling one thing to the religious press and another to the secular press. Or mainstream reporters might be blind to the religious angle. What got me wondering was the Los Angeles Times' informative story about the movie. Based on this story, you would think that the movie had only a few religious ties. Reporter Robert W. Welkos showed that the makers of the film had assembled a broad coalition of groups to promote it:
Behind the scenes of the heartwarming indie film is an aggressive grass-roots marketing campaign that began more than a year before the film's release in October. In the campaign, such unlikely forces as adoption advocates, Latino groups, church leaders, businessmen and an army of folks from various walks of life took up the cause of "Bella" and its pro-adoption theme.
Also, Welkos focused on why the filmmakers decide to make it. Lead actor Eduardo Verastegui said he wished to make a movie that would portray Hispanics in a realistic and positive light rather than stereotypically. "My goal is to elevate and heal and respect the dignity of Latinos in the media," Verastegui said. Writer-director Alejandro Monteverde, whose rise to the top is itself film-worthy, said he wanted to tell a love story that "would not be put in a political box."
Did Welkos not ask Verastegui about his deep Catholic faith? Or did Verastegui not tell him about it? I ask because Deborah Gyapong of Canadian Catholic News wrote a fascinating story about Verastegui's religious journey. A huge movie and recording star in his native Mexico, Verategui forsook fame to follow the Way of the Lord:
In Los Angeles, while studying English, he found himself drawn to a deeper faith in Christ through his devout Catholic teacher. He began to see all the reasons he had wanted to be an actor--fame, money and pleasure--as empty and vain.
He realized he'd been typecast into portraying the unfaithful, lying Latin lover and playing those parts promoted negative stereotypes. The media portrayal of Hispanics in general demeaned both men and women, resembling nothing like the dignity and beauty of his mother and sisters in Mexico.
He understood he had hurt people through the work he had done and the messages in his movies were "poisoning society."
"It broke my heart," the actor told the annual Rose Dinner in Ottawa May 10, following the 10th annual March for Life in Ottawa. "I realized I had offended God." He said he spent "many months in tears."
Deeply influenced by Scott and Kimberly Hahn's Rome Sweet Home, Verastegui sold his possessions, wondering if God was calling him to be a priest, perhaps in the jungles of South America. His spiritual advisor, however, told him: "Hollywood is a bigger jungle."
He vowed to refuse parts unless they affirmed life and human dignity. For three years, he went without work, because all the parts offered him involved the "same negative stereotypes."
"We are not called to be successful, we are called to be faithful," Verastegui said to the sold-out crowd of 1,000. "I wasn't born to be famous, or rich, I was born to know and love and serve our Lord Jesus Christ," he said.
That comment is hardly an isolated incident. As Gyapong reported, Verastegui met Severino while attending Mass. My parents saw a pre-screening of the film in the spring at their parish in the Bay Area. The filmmakers had a private screening with Catholic bishops.
Then again, maybe Verastegui failed to tell the Times' Welkos about his faith. He and the other filmmakers created a video about the making of the movie. At no time in the short does anyone mention religion or faith.
Do our readers have any thoughts on my thesis?