In Hollywood, truth is stranger than fiction.
On Thursday, Deadline announced that ‘Pineapple Express’ and ‘This Is the End’ James Franco had been cast as Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in ‘Alina of Cuba,’ a biopic based on the life of his ex-boyfriend. daughter, Alina Fernandez.
On Friday, after the casting of a white American actor as a prominent Latin American political figure drew widespread online condemnation (including very pointed criticism from actor John Leguizamo), the one of the film’s producers provided an explanation.
“[W]We used Fidel Castro’s ancient Galician heraldry as a focal compass, then we combed through all the ranks of Latin-rooted actors in Hollywood to find someone with a similar facial structure,” said producer John Martinez O’Felan in a statement.
“Running an extensive search of our hopes through the eye of Spanish and Portuguese genealogy that the Galicians held, we found that James, by far, had the closest facial resemblance to any major players in our industry, which means the focus would be on building his character accent and we would have a stunning on-screen match to intrigue audiences and bring the story to life with true visual integrity.
No, I’m not quoting the Onion. This is a true statement from the producer of the film.
Those involved in the project have taken great care to point out that the film features Latino actors in other roles, including Salvadoran Cuban Ana Villafañe in the title role of Fernández and Argentinian Mía Maestro as Natalia “Naty” Revuelta, Fernández’s mother. On Saturday, Fernández herself expressed her support for the decision to choose Franco. As she told Deadline, “James Franco bears an obvious physical resemblance to Fidel Castro, in addition to his skills and charisma.”
Never mind that Franco’s casting does nothing for Latino representation in American cinema, which is generally atrocious. Never mind that this contributes to a continued erasure of Latinos from American popular culture. Never mind that studios spent the months following the 2020 uprisings talking about “pipelines” and “inclusion” only to serve Franco (who, it should also be noted, faced allegations of bad behavior on the part of several colleagues and students). Never mind that Latino audiences in the United States are continually subjected to terrible on-screen Spanish. Never mind the convoluted DNA talk about “Galician heraldry”.
Does James Franco, a guy who usually has the demeanor of someone who’s dived into Pineapple Express, really the best guy to play a caffeinated Cuban dictator? A leader who, regardless of what you may have thought of his politics, was a magnetic orator who holds the record for the longest speech before the United Nations General Assembly between 1945 and 1976?
Does a producer really looking at footage of Castro’s marathon 4½-hour speech, the transcript of which is 40 single-spaced letter-size pages if printed, and thinking, what if we had this guy who could barely host a TV show from the Oscars? And then, when people asked why this plum role – perhaps the most prominent Latin American leader of the 20th century – couldn’t possibly be cast by a Latino actor, respond by producing a statement that reads like the End User License Agreement for 23andMe?
It’s like a storyline from “The Producers.”
In this popular musical, a pair of Broadway money men try to get rich by intentionally producing a Broadway flop. Which got me thinking…
Why just whitewash the role of Fidel Castro? Why not create the more whitewashed, non-Cuban version of “Alina de Cuba” – a “House of Spirits” for the new millennium, a “Perez Family” for the Internet age? If you are going to whitewash, GO TO THE PATH. Make it so awkward and unbearable that people will remember it with the same embarrassed wonder they usually reserve for that hot tub sex scene in “Showgirls.”
Inspired by what is obviously an incredible and lucrative idea, I called Rosa Lowinger, the Cuban-born, Los Angeles-based author of “Tropicana Nights: The Life and Times of the Legendary Cuban Nightclub.” Together, we’re projecting a whole new image that people will be talking about for decades. Our working title: “Springtime for Castro”.
Here is our dream team:
Fidel Castro: Played by James Franco, of course. He has a shaggy beard. And, as we’ve already established, his ancestors hailed from the same 4 million square kilometer continent as Castro. Franco will have to work to “develop” his accent, but he will get bonus points from us if he mangles the ‘r’ in collaborater! – aka “comrade” in Cuban. This will be part of the charm of the film.
Ernesto Che Guevara: Seth Rogen is our shoo-in for the Argentinian revolutionary, of course. He might even do a prequel to “Motorcycle Diaries.” I mean, GIFs already exist.
Fulgencio Batista: The role of the Cuban dictator whom Castro overthrew goes to Nathan Lane who channels his best Gomez from the musical “The Addams Family.” Plus, he was pretty good in “The Producers.”
Camilo Cienfuegos: Cienfuegos was Fidel’s hottest companions, known for his love of the dance floor and checkers. He was presumed dead after a plane crash at sea in the early days of the revolution, before the regime froze into autocratic rule. A martyr taken too soon? Or does Cienfuegos secretly live in Las Vegas? Either way, it’s the perfect role for Adam Driver.
Naty Revolt: The socialite who sold her jewelry to support the bearded (the bearded ones) in their early days, even sewing uniforms for them, Revuelta was known as “one of the most deliciously beautiful women in Cuba”. She had an affair with Castro in the 1950s (while he was still married to his wife, Mirta Díaz-Balart) and this union produced a daughter, Alina. The Revuelta character couldn’t be a better fit for Catherine Zeta-Jones. It would be a perfect marriage of two previous roles the Welsh performer has inhabited: the cunning heroine of “Zorro” and the ruthless drug lord in Lifetime’s “Cocaine Godmother.”
Aline Fernandez: Long estranged from her father (Castro only belatedly recognized her as his daughter), Fernández fled Cuba in her thirties disguised as a Spanish tourist and later became an outspoken anti-communist activist. Zooey Deschanel is the perfect person. She and Alina share brown hair DNA.
Ruby Hart Phillips: She was the New York Times reporter who covered the Cuban Revolution in its early stages. We’re going to go with Nicole Kidman, because this is obviously a set photo with a lot of star power. But as part of the story, she’s sleeping with a revolutionary, because in Hollywoodland, that’s the kind of thing female reporters do.
CIA officer: Every movie set in the midst of a revolution in Latin America needs a CIA agent. We name Vin Diesel because he acquitted himself of his fine car races all over Havana’s Malecón in “The Fate of the Furious.” More importantly, it will attract action fans to this important historical drama.
If you are a Hollywood producer and would like to choose what promises to be a poignant piece of cinematic history, please contact The Times Rights and Permissions Department. Our lawyers are at your side.