James Franco Cast as Fidel Castro in ‘Alina of Cuba’, Sparking Outrage

Hollywood has been accused of erasing and silencing Latinx voices in media for decades, or even worse, left us to play stereotypical maid and drug dealer roles in film and television

James Franco Fidel Castro

Photos: Flickr Creative Commons by Vanessa Lua; Flickr Creative Commons

Hollywood has been accused of erasing and silencing Latinx voices in media for decades, or even worse, left us to play stereotypical maid and drug dealer roles in film and television. Over the weekend, it was announced that actor James Franco, 44, who is of Portuguese and Russian Jewish descent, has been cast in the upcoming film Alina of Cuba as Fidel Castro—arguably the most infamous Cubans in history. The film will not center Castro but his daughter Alina Fernández, played by Cuban and Salvadoran American actress Ana Villafañe (On Your Feet!, Younger). The film is set to be directed by Miguel Bardem, based on a script written by Jose Rivera, the first Puerto Rican screenwriter to receive an Oscar nomination alongside Nilo Cruz, a Cuban American playwright who became the first Latino to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2003.

But because Franco is not Latino, the casting decision drew criticism and outrage from the Latinx community and prominent Latinx actors from across the industry. In the wake of the cancellation of Gordita Chronicles and the shelving of Batgirl starring Leslie Grace this feels like a trifecta of failures when it comes to representation in Hollywood.

Colombian American actor and creator of Latin History for Morons John Leguizamo has been one of the most vocal critics, saying on Instagram, “How is this still going on? 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 b wrong! I don’t got a prob with Franco but he ain’t Latino!” (sic).

The real-life Alina Fernández, however, has defended Franco’s casting, citing his “obvious physical resemblance with Fidel Castro” and “skills and charisma” as reasons to stand by the decision, according to Deadline.  “I find the selection of the cast amazing,” Fernández told the publication.

It’s also worth noting that Castro was, like Franco, of European descent. His father was a migrant to Cuba from Galicia, while his mother was of Canarian ancestry, meaning both Castro and Franco are racially white. However, Latinx actors such as Sol Rodriguez have noted the hypocrisy in casting an actor who likely has little to no familiarity with Cuban culture and who will have to fake a Cuban accent—all while real Latinxs have been forced to flatten their accents and abandon their heritage in order to assimilate into American society. This conversation is reminiscent of the similar argument that came when Spanish actor Javier Bardem was cast as Cuban singer/actor Desi Arnaz in The Ricardos. There have been countless white, non-Latinx actors who’ve portrayed Latinxs but the bigger question is – why are our stories worth telling yet why aren’t we the ones given the opportunity to tell them time and time again?

Alongside Franco and Villafañe, the film will also feature Mía Maestro (Frida, The Motorcycle Diaries) as Natalia Revuelta, Fernández’s mother; Alanna de la Rosa (Sound of Freedom), Maria Cecilia Botero (Encanto), Harding Junior (The Five Juanas), Sian Chiong (Corazón guerrero), and Rafael Ernesto Hernandez (Rutas de la vida).

Alina of Cuba is set to begin filming Aug.15 in Colombia, NBC News reported.

In this Article

cuba Featured fidel castro latinx film Latinx representation trending
More on this topic