After John Leguizamo’s criticism of the casting of James Franco as Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro in the independent film Alina from Cubaproducer John Martinez O’Felan has responded, calling the comments “culturally uneducated.”
Directed by Miguel Bardem and based on a script written by Jose Rivera and Nilo Cruz, Franco stars opposite Mía Maestro, who plays Natalia “Naty” Revuelta, a Cuban-born socialite with whom Castro develops a romantic bond. The film is based on the true story of Alina Fernandez – played by Ana Villafañe – a Cuban exile turned social advocate only to discover at the age of 10 that she is Castro’s daughter.
Leguizamo, a Colombian-American actor who wrote and performed the Broadway production Latin history for idiotstook to Instagram Friday to reject the decision to cast Franco, questioning why Hollywood is “excluding” the Latinx community, noting that a film about Castro is a “seriously difficult story to tell without glorification”.
“How’s this going?” Leguizamo, who previously spoke about the lack of Latinx representation in Hollywood, said about the casting. “How does Hollywood exclude us, but also steal our stories? No more appropriation of Hollywood and streamers! Boycott! This F’d up! Plus seriously hard story to tell without glorification, which would be wrong! I have no problem with Franco, but he is not Latino!”
In response, O’Felan, the film’s producer, said in a statement: The Hollywood Reporter that he admires Leguizamo, but that his comments are a “blind attack”.
“A man like John Leguizamo has been historically viewed by Hispanics as one of America’s earliest actors of Latin descent since the 1990s, and I’ve always admired him as a fellow underdog. But his comments are culturally uneducated and a blind attack with no substance that related to this project.”
“The reality of the piece of ignorance falls within his statement which suggests his personal view of being ‘Latino’ because a landmass or habitat does not determine a person’s blood history or genetics,” he continues.
O’Felan goes on to say that Leguizamo’s “note is a great topic of conversation because they represent the same confusion and identity crisis in Hollywood right now within the Hispanic community in America that claims we should only identify as Latin, which is especially because of the lies spread by the actors who are supposed to represent us, but instead create divisions among their own people.”
The producer concludes that Leguizamo’s criticism ultimately detracts from who the film is about: Fernandez.
“I think he needs to go beyond himself and also recognize that this story is about a Latin female immigrant living in America who is historically significant, led by a Latin woman and I’m just an underdog making it, so he would 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 says.
Alina from Cuba with a cast and crew from “at least seven countries from 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 as director of photography. Nana Fisher, who has often worked with Franco, will be the head of his makeup team, while Jessica Drake will be the dialect coach of the lead cast.
Alanna de la Rosa, Maria Cecilia Botero, Harding Junior, Sian Chiong and Rafael Ernesto Hernandez are among the supporting cast of the film. Shooting is scheduled for 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 Deuce. The Oscar-winning actor was accused in a LA Times reported sexually exploitative behavior by several women in 2018 after his Golden Globes win for the disaster artist. In 2021, Franco settled a sexual misconduct lawsuit filed by actresses Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal — former students of his now-defunct drama school Studio 4. Franco’s lawyers denied the charges, but the actor admitted to sleeping with students. , although he stated it was with no one in his class.