James Franco's Casting As Fidel Castro In 'Alina Of Cuba' Spurs Online And Industry Backlash

While Castro's daughter Alina Fernandez supported Franco's casting, actor John Leguizamo and others accused the filmmakers of cultural appropriation.
Left: Fidel Castro in Washington, D.C., in 1979. Right: James Franco in 2019.
Left: Fidel Castro in Washington, D.C., in 1979. Right: James Franco in 2019.
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James Franco, who was accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women in 2018, has been cast as Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro in “Alina of Cuba.” The independent film will chronicle the story of Castro’s daughter Alina Fernandez, according to Deadline.

Fernandez was 10 years old when she learned Castro was her biological father. She later became a staunch anti-Castro activist and was arrested several times as a dissident for attempting to flee the communist nation before successfully defecting to Spain in 1993.

Fernandez will serve as an on-set creative and biographical consultant, and the project was written by Oscar-nominated screenwriter José Rivera and Cuban Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz. But Franco’s casting has already sparked backlash — most notably from his fellow actors.

“How is this still going on?” John Leguizamo captioned an Instagram post Friday. “How is Hollywood still excluding us but stealing our narratives as well? No more appropriation Hollywood and streamers! Boycott! This F’d up!”

“Plus seriously difficult story to tell without aggrandizement which would b wrong!” Leguizamo added. “I don’t got a prob with Franco but he ain’t Latino!”

“I’m auditioning for another generic Latin-American drug dealer and James Franco is dead ass playing Fidel Castro,” tweeted actor Jeff Torres. “Latinos gettin’ done dirty af out here and everywhere.”

Lead creative producer John Martinez O’Felan told Deadline the casting was carefully considered, however, and that he “combed through the entire ranks of actors with Latin roots in Hollywood.” He noted Franco, who is one-quarter Portuguese, had a “close physical resemblance” to Castro.

O’Felan told Deadline his team specifically focused on actors of Spanish and Portuguese heritage because Galicians like Castro shared that ancestry. He said Franco was cast for having “the closest facial likeness” and that he succeeded in “finding someone Alina Fernandez would strongly endorse.”

O’Felan said the “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 intergenerational and recent Latin roots from the U.S., Latin America, and the world.”

The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California’s School for Communication and Journalism responded to the news on Twitter by contrasting the cancelation of “multiple Latinx shows” with Franco’s casting: “No wonder there is so little progress in this town.”

The supporting cast includes Cuban-born actors Sian Chiong and Rafael Ernesto Hernandez, as well as María Cecilia Botero from “Encanto.” “Alina of Cuba” will start filming in Cartagena and Bogota, Colombia, later this month with the colonial architecture mimicking Havana’s.

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