After John Leguizamo slammed the casting of “non-Latino” James Franco as Fidel Castro in the recently-announced Alina of Cuba, producer John Martinez O’Felan implored the Colombia-born actor to expand his definition of Latino.
“A guy like John Leguizamo has historically been looked up to by Hispanics as one of America’s earliest actors of Latin descent since the ’90s and I’ve always admired him as a fellow underdog. But his comments are culturally uneducated and a blind attack with zero substance related to this project.
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.”
Moreover, O’Felan emphasized in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter that the film isn’t about Fidel. It’s about his daughter, Alina Fernández, whose unique story is being decentered over Leguizamo’s criticism of a secondary casting decision that Alina ostensibly supports:
“I think he should move past himself and also acknowledge that this story is about a Latin female immigrant living in America who is of historical importance, led by a Latin woman and I’m just an underdog who is making it, so he should also understand that it’s kind of disappointing to see our work getting attacked by someone who claims to be a leader of the Latin community.”
O’Felan isn’t the only person feeling defensive about Franco playing Castro. Fans have noted that Franco and Castro descend from neighboring countries in Europe (Portugal and Spain, respectively). Further, they’ve thwarted accusations of “whitewashing” by stating that “Latino” is not a race, given that, among others, there are black Latinos, indigenous Latinos, and white Latinos. Castro would have likely fallen into the last of those categories; Malcolm X called him “the only white person that I have really liked.”
Finally, they’ve criticized Hollywood’s ethnic purity standard as being unethical and untenable, for Leguizamo would himself fail for having played characters who are Asian and European (not to mention women).
There’s no release date for Alina of Cuba, but if John of Colombia has it his way, the film will die during production, or be without James of America.