Actor John Leguizamo, who in recent months has become a vocal critic of what he perceives to be the industry’s mistreatment of “Latinx” actors, is unhappy with the recent announcement that James Franco will be portraying former Cuban leader Fidel Castro due to the fact that the actor is not Latino.
As first revealed by Deadline in an August 4th exclusive, Franco will star as Castro in director Miguel Bardem’s upcoming Alina of Cuba.
The original Spider-Man trilogy actor will appear opposite Mayans M.C. actress Mía Maestro and New Amsterdam actress Ana Villafañe, who will portray the dictator’s mistress, Natalia “Naty” Revuelta Clews, and the pair’s daughter, Alina Fernández Revuelta, respectively.
Featuring a script by The Motorcycle Diaries screenwriter Jose Rivera and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, the film, as per the entertainment news outlet, “follows the true-life story of Cuban exile turned social advocate, Alina , whose birth was the result of the tryst between Revuelta and Castro.”
Speaking to the project’s development, lead creative producer John Martinez O’Felan explained, “Since the inception of the film, our focus has been to produce an artistic piece of modern Hispanic history, with the vision for the project as being truly inclusive through uniting actors and creatives from both intergenerational and recent Latin roots from the U.S, Latin America, and the world.”
Regarding Franco, O’Felan then explained that the actor was cast out of a desire for visual accuracy, as the production team found that he bore a striking physical resemblance to Castro.
“Finding and convincing James Franco to play Castro,” he continued, “was a fun and challenging process and has been the collaborative work of the universe, because our director’s original order was to find an actor who holds a close physical resemblance to the real Castro to build from, along with finding someone Alina Fernandez would strongly endorse.”
Of their casting process, he recalled, “To get there on such a tough look to cast, we used Fidel Castro’s ancient Galician heraldry as our focal compass, and then combed through the entire ranks of actors with Latin roots in Hollywood to find someone who has a similar facial structure.”
“In executing a close search into our hopefuls through the eye of Spanish and Portuguese genealogy which the Galicians held, we found that James, by far, had the closest facial likeness of our Industry’s leading actors, meaning that the focus would be to build out his character accent and we’d have a stunning on-screen match to intrigue audiences and bring the story to life with true visual integrity,” he added. “Altogether, working with such a supportive and exciting cast has been a true blessing to our team and project.”
However, despite the production’s best intentions, its casting of Franco did not sit right with Leguizamo, who took to Instagram the next day to question, “How is this still going on? How is Hollywood excluding us but stealing our narratives as well?”
“No more appropriation Hollywood and streamers!” the Encanto actor exclaimed. “Boycott! This F’d up! Plus seriously difficult story to tell without aggrandizement which would be wrong!”
Leguizamo would conclude, “I don’t got a prob with Franco but he ain’t Latino!”
In a follow-up post to Instagram he wrote, “Latin exclusion in Hollywood is real! Don’t get it twisted! Long long history of it! And appropriation of our stories even longer!”
He then questioned, “Why can’t Latinxers play Latin roles? Why can’t we play lead roles? Why can’t we they flip white roles to Latin guys and gals?”
This rhetoric echoes the argument he made during a January interview with Nick Barili of The Osars’ Seen program that Hollywood was subjecting Latin actors and actresses to a “cultural apartheid”.
“The census came out, the 2020 Census and said we’re almost 20% of the population,” he said. “And then a couple of years ago we were only 3% of the faces in front of the camera, less than 1% of the stories, less than 1% of the crew, less than 1% of the executives. That’s cultural apartheid.”
“And the same thing goes for politics, less than 1% of elected officials. And forget about publication. Latin children are least seen in children’s picture books. So right then there, your self-esteem as a child is already being challenged.”
He would further assert, “So not only are we invisible, but when we are seen, it’s a negative portrayal.”
“How do you create a Latin star in America when the roles are one-dimensional and not worthy of awards?,” Leguizamo asked. “The ugly question is, why are Latin people not succeeding? That’s the ugly question. Are we not smart enough? Not talented enough? Not good-looking enough? Not hardworking enough? No, none of those stereotypes and racist ideas because nobody tries harder with less access.”