Casting of James Franco as Fidel Castro draws backlash

John Leguizamo took to social media to criticise Hollywood for casting a non-Latino actor

James Franco is set to return to acting after the settlement of a class-action lawsuit where he was accused of inappropriate and sexually exploitive behaviour. Getty Images
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James Franco’s latest film role has caused a stir online, particularly within the Latino community.

Franco is set to star as revolutionary and politician Fidel Castro in the indie film Alina of Cuba. The film is based on the true story of Alina Fernandez, a social advocate and Cuban exile who learnt at the age of 10 that she is Castro’s daughter. Ana Villafane is playing the role of Fernandez.

Directed by Miguel Bardem and based on a script by Jose Rivera and Nilo Cruz, the story will also focus on the romantic relationship between Castro and Fernandez’s mother, Cuban-born socialite Natalia “Naty” Revuelta, while they were both married to other people.

Following the news that Franco will play Castro, Colombian-American actor John Leguizamo took to Instagram to criticise the casting of a non-Latino actor for the role of the famous Cuban historical figure.

“How is this still going on?” Leguizamo wrote to his one million followers on Instagram. “How is Hollywood excluding us but stealing our narratives as well? No more appropriation Hollywood and streamers! Boycott!”

Alina Fernandez, the daughter of Fidel Castro. Reuters

Other Latin actors such as Jess Darrow, Raul Castillo, Sol Rodriguez and Jeff Torres also voiced their outrage on their social platforms, including Nicaraguan-American political strategist and The View co-host Ana Navarro who commented under Leguizamo’s post, stating: “I’d like to think no Latino actor worth their salt would sign up to play and aggrandise a murderous dictator who terrorised the people of Cuba for six decades. For both reasons you articulated, I join you in the boycott.”

Leguizamo, who has been outspoken about the lack of representation of the Latino community in Hollywood, also wrote: “I don’t got a prob with Franco but he ain’t Latino!”

Following the online backlash, John Martinez O'Felan, producer of the indie film, defended the choice of casting Franco.

“His [Leguizamo's] comments are culturally uneducated and a blind attack with zero substance related to this project,” O'Felan said, through a statement to The Hollywood Reporter.

“The reality of the ignorance piece falls within his statement suggesting his personal view on being ‘Latino,’ because a land mass or living area does not determine a person’s blood history or genetics.”

Many social media users agreed with O’Felan, pointing out that Latino as a "race" is an invention of American culture. Castro's father was Spanish from Galicia and his mother Cuban from the Canary Islands, but of Spanish descent. Franco’s father’s family is of Portuguese descent from the Madeira islands, very close to the Canary Islands.

O'Felan also told Deadline that the casting process was guided by Castro’s Galician ancestry. The team then researched Hollywood actors with Latin roots to “to find someone who has a similar facial structure.”

James Franco is set to play Fidel Castro in 'Alina of Cuba' and Castro's daughter, Alina Fernandez, has backed the casting decision

Fernandez, who the film centres on, has publicly stated her approval of Franco’s casting.

“The project is almost entirely Latino, both in front and behind the camera,” she told Deadline.

“James Franco has an obvious physical resemblance with Fidel Castro, besides his skills and charisma.”

Surprisingly, what hasn’t been getting as much attention or outrage online is Franco’s return to acting after facing allegations of inappropriate and sexually exploitive behaviour.

In 2018, a Los Angeles Times report found that Franco was sexually inappropriate with five women, two of whom were his former acting students. The report led to a class-action lawsuit that was settled last year, where Franco admitted to sleeping with students from the acting school he co-owned.

Since the 2018 report, Franco stepped away from Hollywood, with many actors choosing not to associate with the Oscar nominee and two-time Golden Globe winner. This includes his longtime collaborator and friend, actor Seth Rogen, who publicly stated through an interview with The Sunday Times that he had no plans to work with Franco again following the allegations.

Alina of Cuba will be shot entirely on location in Cartagena and Bogota where production will begin on Monday, August 15.

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