The visitation of the Virgin Mary in a small town in Mexico and the subsequent push by a humble man named Juan Diego to get a temple erected in her name is being brought to the big screen, courtesy of screenwriter Joe Eszterhas and Roma Downey and Mark Burnett’s LightWorkers Media. Known as the Virgen de Guadalupe or Our Lady of Guadalupe the story is well-known and the site is revered throughout the world as sacred, but especially in Mexico and Latin American countries where the painted image of her surrounded by light and roses has become a symbol of faith.
The project, Guadalupe, will go through MGM via LightWorkers’ deal at the studio. The emergence of Eszterhas back into the Hollywood fray comes after about a decade’s absence.
Eszterhas had been working on the script long before the faith-based push became popular at Hollywood studios. The project would bring him back into the Hollywood fold, but on much different and humbler terms than what drove his success previously with dark, sexy thrillers like Basic Instinct or Jagged Edge.
The thought about writing a screenplay about Our Lady of Guadalupe came to him 14 years ago during what he calls his life-changing “Christian conversion.” The screenwriter would later write a book entitled Crossbearer to share his story about that moment sitting on the curb in his cul-de-sac in 2001 at his wits end after battling cancer and addiction. A man who was once the highest-paid screenwriter in Hollywood with a wild lifestyle was now feeling defeated, and found himself begging God for help. That’s when something other-worldly happened.
When he regained his health, Eszterhas traveled to Mexico City to do research and to pray to Our Lady of Guadalupe to help him become a messenger for God. The end result is the spec script that Lightworkers just picked up.
Eszterhas told Deadline that his wife, Naomi, inspired to write the script about the Blessed Mother as she herself, felt a closeness to her. Downey herself played the Blessed Virgin Mary in both Son of God and the TV mini-series The Bible.
When Downey and her husband Burnett produced Son of God, they (smartly) dubbed a Spanish version to reach the large Hispanic and Latino audience and dropped the film into 200 theaters. About 4% of the films’ opening gross came from those small number of theaters and 22% of the Son of God audience was Hispanic.
Producing with Lightworkers will be Gato Grande, the joint venture between MGM and Miguel Aleman and Antonio Cue. Overseeing the projects development has been Gato Grande’s head of development Carla Gonzalez Vargas. Guadalupe was initially acquired by David Segel, who is founder/Chairman of MPower Pics. Segel will now serve as exec producer with Steve McEvvety, CEO of MPower. Also producing will be John Shepherd, president of MPower Pics.
There had been a documentary on Our Lady of Guadalupe that was narrated by Passion of the Christ‘s Jim Caviezel, which was produced by the Knights of Columbus and ran as part of ABC’s Visions and Values series, but there has, as yet, been no feature film to date which seems odd given the worldwide interest.
The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a beautiful one. Juan Diego, whom she appeared to, was later canonized by the Catholic Church in 2002 as a saint with the urging of Pope John Paul II.
As the story goes, on Dec. 12, 1531, a traveling Diego was beckoned by the beautiful sound of birds up on the top of a hill and heard a voice speaking to him. He came upon a girl, glowing in unearthly radiance — and she spoke to him. She told him that she was the Virgin Mary and told him to go to the bishop and ask the local church to build a place of worship. He did so, but was rebuffed by the bishop. So, he went back to the spot where he had seen the apparition of Mary and told her what had happened. She told him to return and request the little temple yet again so, once again, he tried with the bishop who once again did not believe him. After that, the bishop had monks tail him but they ended up losing him in the woods.
Diego, who had a seriously ill uncle, was not initially going to go back to Mary after that and instead decided to find a priest for his uncle. That’s when an apparition of the Virgin Mary stopped him in his path and told him to go to the place they first met and there would be flowers there now. Pick them and bring them back, she told him. So he did. She put her hands on them and told him now to go back to the bishop and give him the sign.
When he returned to the disbelieving bishop on Dec. 12, Juan Diego was put off and had to wait a very long time. Once he was finally allowed to see the bishop, Juan Diego opened his cloak that held the Castilian roses — and an image of Mary appeared before him. The bishop fell to his knees and promised to build a place of worship. When Juan Diego returned to his uncle’s bedside, he was healed. His uncle said that the Virgin Mary had come to his bedside and healed him. She said her name was Guadalupe.
The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, located in Mexico City, now has about 20M visitors a year. This year, in December, will mark the 486th anniversary of her appearance to Juan Diego.