Choice of James Franco as Fidel Castro leads to politically misguided controversy

A politically correct critique by a colleague against the casting of James Franco in the role of Fidel Castro, announced last week, made it clear how misconceptions and misinformation guide vigilante impulses on social media.

John Leguizamo criticized the fact that James Franco played the former dictator in the movie “Alina of Cuba”, complaining about the discrimination faced by Latino actors, who have difficulties finding work and are replaced by Americans in Hollywood productions.

“I have no problem with Franco, but he is not Latino”, wrote Leguizamo on Friday (5/8) on his social networks.

The protest reinforces that Leguizamo sees no problem in Franco’s return to acting, after being denounced for abuse and prosecuted in 2019, on charges of sexually exploiting young women who attended his acting classes. The process was resolved last year and he is slowly starting to resume his career.

But James Franco does have Latin blood and a genealogy closer to that of Fidel Castro than John Leguizamo himself, who was born in Colombia.

Franco’s great-grandfather came to the US from Madeira Island, a Portuguese colony off the coast of Africa, and spoke Portuguese.

Only there’s more. Fidel Castro’s father was born in Spain and his mother in the Canary Islands, which is the closest country – and a boat ride away – from Madeira.

If he depended on a genetic report to interpret the former dictator of Cuba, Franco would be hired immediately. After all, his families originated in the same region, at a distance of only 498 km.

Despite this, Leguizamo even called for a boycott of the film, because Franco was not Latin enough.

“How is this still happening? How does Hollywood continue to not only exclude us, but also steal our narratives? Enough of Hollywood and streamer appropriation! Boycott! That’s over! Also, this is a seriously difficult story to tell without aggrandizement, which would be wrong! I have no problems with Franco, but he is not Latino!”, wrote the actor on his Instagram.

“Alina of Cuba” producer John Martinez O’Felan countered the attack without mentioning Franco’s background, complaining against what he called a “blind attack.”

“A guy like John Leguizamo has historically been regarded by Hispanics as one of America’s top Latino descent actors since the 1990s and I’ve always looked up to him. But his comments are culturally ignorant and a blind attack with zero substance related to this project,” O’Felan told The Hollywood Reporter.

Fidel Castro’s own daughter, Alina Fernández, stepped in next to defend Franco.

As well as boasting that “the project is almost entirely Latino, both in front of and behind the camera,” she told Deadline: “James Franco bears an obvious physical resemblance to Fidel Castro, in addition to his skills and charisma.”

“I think the entire cast is amazing,” he added, citing actress Mia Maestro (“The Strain”) in the role of her mother, Natalia “Naty” Revuelta, and Ana Villafañe (“New Amsterdam”) as the title character – who is herself

“Alina of Cuba” is directed by the Spaniard Miguel Bardem (“Incautos”) and a screenplay written by the Puerto Rican José Rivera (“Dários de Motocicleta”) and the Cuban Nilo Cruz, the first Latino winner of the Pulitzer Prize – for the play “Anna in the Tropic” (2002).

The plot is based on Alina’s memoir and tells the amazing story of the daughter of Fidel Castro and a Cuban socialite, who was born in secret in Cuba three years before her father took power in the country. She didn’t find out whose daughter she was until age 10 and fled the country as a dissident in 1993, disguised as a Spanish tourist.

Faced with the repercussion of his protest, Leguizamo spoke again. He recorded videos insisting that he has “no problem with James Franco”, especially after discovering the Portuguese colonial past of the actor’s family, and sought to justify his outburst.

“I grew up in a time when Latinos couldn’t play Latinos in movies. Where Charlton Heston played Mexican, Eli Wallach played Mexican, Al Pacino played Cuban and Puerto Rican, even Ben Affleck played Latino in ‘Argo’ and Marisa Tomei played Latina women.

Leguizamo also listed historical roles of Latinos played by Americans and English.

The detail is that he didn’t comment on Hollywood’s latest practice of casting Spanish (ie European) couple Javier Barden and Penélope Cruz as Latin Americans. Barden, in fact, has just played an illustrious Cuban: the musician and comedian Desi Arnaz in “Introducing the Ricardos”. This is not a reminder of the Charlton Heston and Eli Wallach era. Barden was nominated for an Oscar 2022 for his performance.

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