2008 Ignatius Press
In the opening scene of “Bella,” there is a gorgeous view of the ocean surf with seagulls crying overhead. Eduardo Verastegui’s resonant accent is heard in a voiceover, saying, “My mother always told me, ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans’”. This quote could well have come from Eduardo’s mother in real life, who while despairing over his wild lifestyle as a pop singer and Soap Opera star in Mexico, said, “my prayers will touch his heart one day, even if my words cannot.” Tim Drake’s book Behind Bella tells the fascinating story of how this mother’s prayer changed not only her son’s life, but also that of thousands of others. The film Bella began and ends with a mother’s tender love.
At seventeen, Eduardo Verastegui left his home on the Mexican-Texas border to find fame and fortune in Mexico City. He sang with a boy band touring sixteen countries, was on various Mexican soap operas, and his fame combined with his mesmerizing blue eyes earned him the nickname “the Brad Pitt of Mexico.” Pursuing the North American market, Eduardo went to Miami to record an English language album when a Hollywood agent told him to audition for the film. “Chasing Papi.” It was about a man exhausted from seeing three women at once, hardly a family oriented film, however Verastegui was about to meet someone who would forever change his life.
God had heard the prayers of his mother, and sent Eduardo an English language coach, Jasmine O’Donnell, who would challenge the quality of the film projects he was doing and his lifestyle, bringing him to a reversion to the Catholicism of his childhood. Fueled with the grace of the sacraments, Verastegui sought to make films, which would positively influence the culture. He changed agents and turned down many offers in Hollywood. ” I promised God that I would never again use my talents in any project that would offend my faith, family, or Latino culture. “Said Verastegui, “Ever since the 1940’s Latinos have been cast as thieves, drunks, or Latin-lovers. I realized for the first time that I might not be a movie star. I thought it was the end of my life’”. Far from the end, it was a new beginning. Soon he would team up with fellow Latino Catholics in the entertainment industry, Leo Severino and Alejandro Monteverde, and it wasn’t long till ‘the three amigos’ found the project they were seeking; a life affirming story about a woman in a crisis pregnancy which would uplift audiences, challenging them to love more deeply, believe more intensely, and forgive more readily.
How does the making of a film become even more compelling as the film itself? When God is the architect of the plans, and the participants consult Him at every turn. Then miracles can and do happen, as Tim Drake faithfully relates in Behind Bella. The compelling narrative describes the beginning of Metanoia Films, through the production of the film and the support Bella garnered from leaders in the political world; such as Governor Jeb and President George Bush and entertainment industry legends Kathie Lee Gifford and Tony Bennett. But the influence of Bella reached far beyond the powerful. Drake describes in tender detail Bella’s life changing effect on the individual viewers. To date, nearly thirty babies were born because their parents were inspired by this film. Many of these precious babies were saved from abortion. Drake calls them “Bella babies.”
“Behind Bella” is a coffee table book with deeply personal photography of the Bella stars in reflective moments, stills from the film, and an array of group photos with celebrities including both Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI. The story of how the film Bella was born is a powerful phenomenon, which Tim Drake has movingly captured for posterity, so that it will continue to inspire artists to offer their talents to promote the Culture of Life.
This review was completed as part of The Catholic Company reviewer program.