Following criticisms by John Leguizamo of James Franco’s casting as Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro in the independent film Alina of Cuba, producer John Martinez O’Felan has responded, calling the comments “culturally uneducated.”
Set to be directed by Miguel Bardem and based on a script written by Jose Rivera and Nilo Cruz, Franco stars opposite Mía Maestro, who portrays Natalia “Naty” Revuelta, a Cuban-born socialite with whom Castro becomes romantically entwined. The film is based on the true-life story of Alina Fernandez — played by Ana Villafañe — a Cuban exile turned social advocate who learns at age 10 that she is Castro’s daughter.
Leguizamo, a Colombian American actor who wrote and performed the Broadway production Latin History for Morons, took to Instagram on Friday to slam the decision to cast Franco, questioning why Hollywood is “excluding” the Latinx community and notes that a film on Castro is a “seriously difficult story to tell without aggrandizement.”
“How is this still going on?” Leguizamo, who has previously been vocal about the lack of Latinx representation in Hollywood, said of the casting. “How is Hollywood excluding us but stealing our narratives as well? No more appropriation Hollywood and streamers! Boycott! This F’d up! Plus seriously difficult story to tell without aggrandizement, which would be wrong! I don’t got a prob with Franco but he ain’t 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 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,” 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 within the Hispanic community in America who are arguing that we should only identify as Latin, which is mostly because of the falsehoods being spread by the actors who are supposed to be representing us, but instead create division amongst their own people.”
The producer concludes that Leguizamo’s criticism ultimately detracts from who the film is about: Fernandez.
“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,” he states.
Alina of Cuba features a cast and crew from “at least seven nations from around the world” according to O’Felan, with production design by Carlos Osorio, editing by Diego Fernando Bustamante, costume design from Daniela Rivano and Juan Carlos Gil as director of photography. Nana Fisher, who has frequently collaborated with Franco, will serve as the head of his makeup team while Jessica Drake will serve as the leading cast’s dialect coach.
Alanna de la Rosa, Maria Cecilia Botero, Harding Junior, Sian Chiong and Rafael Ernesto Hernandez are among the movie’s supporting cast, with filming scheduled to begin on Aug. 15 in the Colombian cities of Cartagena and Bogota.
The role marks one of the first for Franco since the 2019 animated film Artic Dogs and the HBO series The Deuce. The Oscar-winning actor was accused in an L.A. Times report in 2018 by several women of sexually exploitative behavior following 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 from his now-defunct acting school Studio 4. Franco’s lawyers denied the allegations, but the actor admitted to sleeping with students, though he stated it was not with anyone in his class.