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Why Was James Franco Cast As Fidel Castro?

How long until we stop letting people whitewash movies and cast sexual offenders?

Credit: Shutterstock/FeatureFlash Photo Agency

Filmmakers of upcoming biopic about Fidel Castro’s daughter controversially cast James Franco in the role of Castro.

Alina of Cuba

Alina of Cuba: La Hija Rebelde stars Ana Villafeñe as Castro’s daughter, and Mía Maestro as the woman Castro has an affair with. The movie will follow his daughter’s true story of learning who her father was and becoming a social advocate and critic.

The movie begins filming on-site in Colombia this month. Lead creative producer John Martinez O’Felan says, “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.”

This claim begs the question: Why Franco?

Everything wrong with this casting

The Oscar nominee and Golden Globe winner has accrued a negative reputation in Hollywood after his multiple sexual assault allegations. He has admit on Live! With Kelly and Michael that he sent messages trying to meet up with a 17-year-old girl in a hotel room. While he initially denied all other allegations, in December, 2021, he admitted to having sex with his acting students.

Then why, given his history and lack of Latin roots, has Franco been cast in this role? O’Felan says, “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 (Castro’s daughter) would strongly endorse.” Franco has met both conditions because both he and Castro have facial hair. Alina Fernández supports the casting, saying, “James Franco has an obvious physical resemblance with Fidel Castro, besides his skills and charisma.”

Credit: Shutterstock/emkaplin

After emphasizing the importance of casting Latino actors, O’Felan tries to explain the reasoning behind casting an American actor:

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 also says how it was a “fun and challenging process” to convince Franco to play Castro. It has not been specified if the movie will be primarily performed in Spanish or English. This is another insult to Latino representation in film because a movie about Cubans should not be performed in English. He might have to learn the language, or at least his lines, for the role. However, a full Spanish-speaking casting would be more authentic.

Backlash

Emmy winner John Leguizamo has expressed his disappointment and anger at the casting. He says, “How is this still going on? How is Hollywood excluding us but stealing our narratives as well? No more appropriation Hollywood and streamers!” He goes on to say he has no problem with Franco, “but he ain’t Latino!”

O’Felan defends the choice, saying Franco has a Latin-Portuguese heritage, but Leguizamo remains outraged. He discusses in an Instagram post how white people in brown-face have historically played Latin roles. He says, “That’s the era I grew up in. The era where they told you to change your name, stay out of the sun, that only white Latinos or white-passing Latinos would get jobs and they weren’t even the main leads.”

Bottom line: do better, O’Felan.

Written By

English student with a passion for journalism.

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