John Leguizamo Calls Out James Franco’s Casting As Fidel Castro: “How is Hollywood Excluding Latinos But Stealing Our Narratives As Well?”

John Leguizamo is unhappy with the recent announcement that James Franco will be portraying former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

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.

Source: John Leguizamo speaking at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con International, for “Kick-Ass 2”, at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California. Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

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.

Source: Spider-Man 3 (2007), Sony Pictures

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.”

Source: Lors de la visite de Fidel Castro à Montréal le 26 avril 1959 à l’invitation de la Jeune chambre de commerce de Montréal. Sur la photo, de gauche à droite : René Lévesque (journaliste), Claude Dupras (président de la Jeune chambre de commerce de Montréal), Fidel Castro (président de Cuba), Jean-Charles Asselin (président de la Chambre de commerce de Montréal), Raymond Daoust (avocat). Photograph by Paul-Henri Talbot.

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.”

Source: Alien: Covenant (2017), 20th Century Fox

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.”

Source: Fidel Castro meets cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (1961), Wikimedia Commons

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?”

Source: John Leguizamo Instagram

“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!”

Source: Spawn (1997), New Line Cinema

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.”

Source: LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 03: (L-R) Auli’i Cravalho and John Leguizamo attend the world premiere of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Encanto at El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, California on November 03, 2021. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)

“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.”

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