“Alina of Cuba” production casts James Franco as Fidel Castro
As a Cuban-American, my initial response to the casting of James Franco as Fidel Castro is, “WTF?!” As a long-time member and current Executive Assistant for the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors (HOLA), I set aside my gut reaction to take in the whole picture of what this casting choice represents and the response… and it isn’t pretty.
HOLA’s main mission is to strive for the accurate, informed and non-stereotyped portrayal of the full spectrum of Hispanic and Latinx culture and heritage in all entertainment and media industries. “Alina of Cuba” focuses on the story of Fidel Castro’s daughter and has an impressive cast and crew of Hispanic descent. However, the casting of James Franco as Fidel Castro has generated a universal reaction of WTF?! by the Latino community. HOLAsupports all efforts for Hispanic productions, but it is disappointing that the producer, John Martinez O’Felan, criticized John Leguizamo’s objections as culturally uneducated and misguided. Leguizamo has been a long time advocate for improving representation of the Hispanic/Latino community and has dealt with this same misrepresentation during his own career. It’s one of the reasons why he is so passionate about this and clearly stated that the objection isn’t with James Franco himself, it’s with the casting misstep of such a polarizing Hispanic figure with an American actor. O’Felan’s defense of the casting is based on genealogy and the Portuguese ancestry in Franco’s family and the similar resemblance. However, Portugal is neither a Hispanic nor a Latino country – it is considered European.
An article for CNN Entertainment by Leah Asmelash stated how Latino representation has long lagged in Hollywood. Despite making up 18% of the US population, only 5% of the speaking roles in 2019’s top 100 movies went to Latino actors, according to a 2020 study by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. In a separate Washington Post article by Paulina Villegas, Leguizamo commented that Latinos represent 30% of the box office so why aren’t Latinos cast in 30% of the roles? Ideally, if Latinos were cast in 30% of roles, or even 20%, then casting Franco as Castro wouldn’t cause such a backlash.
As an organization, HOLA does its best to prevent this type of misrepresentation. HOLA was founded in 1975 by a group of Hispanic actors concerned with this very issue of how Latinos were being represented in the media. It has been almost 50 years since the founding of HOLA and while the industry has made some progress, whitewashing and negative stereotypes still persist. Instead of boycotting or cancel-culture, we hope this will spark the much-needed conversations required to correct this issue in perpetuity. There are many levels that have to be permeated to achieve this starting from the top regarding production companies, casting directors, agents and society itself. HOLA would love for there to be a non-stereotypical representation of Hispanics and other nationalities but the industry still has a long way to go. It is HOLA’s mission to guide the industry and society to go the distance.
— Phoenix Ximénez
HOLA Executive Assistant
*La Guía Cultural comparte este artículo en español:
I am a latina theatre student and just heard of your organization and I have truly found my people. ???? I am choked up reading this because it is something I see myself constantly having to explain to others. This is exactly what I say to people when I explain why I’m offended when someone says they’re Colombian, but are clearly Mexican in shows. I understand English speakers don’t care or hear a difference, but we do. How come English isn’t just English? How come they have southern accents, NY accents, Yorkshire accents, Cockney, Irish, Scottish etc etc, but God forbid I want proper casting. Its not the actors fault either, it is the lack of opportunity for latino actors and noticing they don’t care as long as we speak Spanish or look Hispanic.