Following John Leguizamo’s criticism of James Franco’s casting as Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro in the independent film Alina from Cubaproducer John Martinez O’Felan responded, calling the comments “culturally uneducated”.
Directed by Miguel Bardem and based on a screenplay written by Jose Rivera and Nilo Cruz, Franco stars alongside Mía Maestro, who plays Natalia “Naty” Revuelta, a Cuban-born socialite with whom Castro becomes romantically involved. The film is based on the true story of Alina Fernandez – played by Ana Villafañe – a Cuban exile turned social activist who learns at age 10 that she is Castro’s daughter.
Leguizamo, a Colombian American actor who wrote and starred in the Broadway production Latin history for moronstook to Instagram on Friday to slam the decision to cast Franco, questioning why Hollywood is “excluding” the Latinx community and noting that a movie about Castro is a “very hard story to tell without making it big.”
“How is it still going? Leguizamo, who has previously spoken about the lack of Latinx representation in Hollywood, said of the casting. “How does Hollywood exclude us but also steal our stories? No more Hollywood appropriation and streamers! Boycott! This F’d up! Moreover, a seriously difficult story to tell without enlargement, which would be wrong! I don’t have a problem with Franco but he’s not a Latino!
In response, O’Felan, the film’s producer, said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter that he admires Leguizamo but that his comments are a “blind attack”.
“A guy like John Leguizamo has always been considered by Hispanics to be one of the premier Latin American actors since the 90s and I’ve always looked up to him as an underdog. But his comments are culturally uneducated and an indiscriminate attack without substance related to this project.
“The reality of ignorance is his statement suggesting his personal view of being ‘Latino,’ because land mass or area of life does not determine a person’s blood or genetic background,” he continues.
O’Felan goes on to say that “Leguizamo’s note is a great talking point because they represent the same confusion and identity crisis in Hollywood right now among the Hispanic community of America who argue that we shouldn’t identify only as Latins, which is mainly because of the lies spread by the actors who are supposed to represent us, but instead create division among their own people.
The producer concludes that Leguizamo’s criticism ultimately undermines the film’s identity: Fernandez.
“I think he should step up and also recognize that this story is about a Latin immigrant living in America that is historically significant, led by a Latin woman and I’m just an outsider doing that, so he should also understand that it is a little disappointing to see our work being attacked by someone who claims to be a leader of the Latin community”, he declares.
Alina from Cuba features a cast and crew from “at least seven nations around the world” according to O’Felan, with production design by Carlos Osorio, editing by Diego Fernando Bustamante, costume design by Daniela Rivano and Juan Carlos Gil in as director of photography. Nana Fisher, who has frequently collaborated with Franco, will lead his makeup team while Jessica Drake will serve as the main cast’s dialect coach.
Alanna de la Rosa, Maria Cecilia Botero, Harding Junior, Sian Chiong and Rafael Ernesto Hernandez are among the film’s supporting cast, with filming set to begin August 15 in the Colombian cities of Cartagena and Bogota.
The role is one of Franco’s first since the 2019 animated film arctic dogs and the HBO series The devil. The Oscar-winning actor was charged in a Los Angeles Time report in 2018 by several women of sexually exploitative behavior after his Golden Globes victory for The Disaster Artist. In 2021, Franco settled a sexual misconduct lawsuit brought by actresses Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal – former students of his now-defunct Studio 4 acting school. Franco’s lawyers have denied the allegations, but the actor admitted to having slept with students, although he said it was not with anyone in his class.