Alina Fernández, daughter of the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro, is defending the casting of non-Latino star James Franco to play her father in the upcoming film biography based on her life.
"James Franco has an obvious physical resemblance with Fidel Castro, besides his skills and charisma," author and anti-Communist activist Fernández, 66, told the trade site Deadline.com Saturday of the Academy Award nominee, in response to criticism spearheaded by actor-filmmaker John Leguizamo over non-Latinos playing Latino roles.
She additionally noted of the film, "Alina of Cuba," that "the project is almost entirely Latino, both in front and behind the camera." Pulitzer Prize-winning Cuban playwright Nilo Cruz ("Anna in the Tropics") and Academy Award-nominated screenwriter José Rivera ("The Motorcycle Diaries") adapted Fernández's 1999 autobiography, with Spain-born Miguel Bardem directing.
"I find the selection of the cast amazing," Fernández told Deadline. Ana Villafañe, who plays her, "is extraordinarily talented, and not only as an actress because she is also a great singer, a very complete performer," Castro's daughter said. "I'm sure that Mía Maestro, an actress I admire, will understand and interpret Naty, my mother," the married Havana socialite Natalia Revuelta, with whom Castro had an affair, "in a unique way and I can't wait to see her building her character."
After Deadline first reported Thursday on the upcoming movie, Tony Award-winner Leguizamo ("Latin History for Morons"), 58, posted on Instagram the next day, "How is this still going on? How is Hollywood excluding us but stealing our narratives as well? No more appropriation[,] Hollywood and streamers! Boycott! … I don't got a prob with Franco," who is of Jewish and Portuguese descent, "but he ain't Latino!”
The following day Leguizamo added in an Instagram video, "I grew up in the era where Latin people couldn't play Latin people on film. Where Charlton Heston played a Mexican, where Eli Wallach played Mexican, where [Al] Pacino played Cuban and Puerto Rican, where Ben Affleck, even, in 'Argo,' played a Latin guy and Marisa Tomei played Latin women …. There was brown face: People painting themselves to look Latin in 'West Side Story.' … Why can't Bruno Mars be Mr. Hernandez?" he asked of the pop star born Peter Gene Hernandez. "Or Oscar Isaac these days be Oscar Isaac Hernandez?" he continued of the "Moon Knight" and "Star Wars" star, born Óscar Isaac Hernández Estrada.
"Alina of Cuba" producer John Martinez O'Felan, describing himself as "a 4th generation Hispanic from Texas from an Iberian/indigenous Mexican mother,” responded in a long statement to Deadline, saying in part, "[T]o be 'Latin' means of Hispanic, Portuguese, Italian or Latin American heritage and roots, all of the branches of the root of being 'Latin.' So to me his statements can create a great talking point for our people, because his comments represent the confusion and identity crisis in Hollywood right now within the Hispanic community in America who claim to only identify as Latin.”