‘Alina of Cuba’ Producer Fires Back at John Leguizamo’s Criticisms of James Franco’s Casting

by Caitlin Berard

The upcoming drama Alina of Cuba tells the story of Alina Fernandez, Fidel Castro’s daughter. Alina learns of her parentage at the age of ten and later becomes one of Castro’s most outspoken critics, eventually escaping Cuba altogether. Alina Fernandez will be played by Ana Villafañe and James Franco will appear as her father, Fidel.

Following the casting announcement, Moulin Rouge star John Leguizamo took to social media to share his shock and disappointment. In Leguizamo’s opinion, James Franco isn’t the right fit for the role because he isn’t Latino. “It should be an equal playing field,” the actor explained in an impassioned Instagram post. “We should be able to play whatever role, but that’s not the way it works.”

John Leguizamo’s criticisms drew a mixed reaction. While some agreed with his assessment of the state of Hollywood, many believed he was taking it too far. Among those in the latter category was Alina of Cuba producer John Martinez O’Felan.

In a statement given to The Hollywood Reporter, O’Felan explained why he disagrees with Leguizamo completely. “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,” the producer said. “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,'” he continued. “Because a land mass or living area does not determine a person’s blood history or genetics.”

‘Alina of Cuba’ Producer Defends James Franco Casting Following John Leguizamo’s Criticisms

John Martinez O’Felan called John Leguizamo’s note “a great talking point”. However, he believes the actor is looking at the film in the wrong light. “I think he should move past himself,” the producer explained. “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.”

“I’m just an underdog who is making it,” he continued. “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.”

As for his decision to cast James Franco as the Cuban revolutionary, O’Felan explained that, unlike John Leguizamo, he believes Franco is a perfect fit.

“Finding and convincing James Franco to play Castro was a fun and challenging process,” he said. “[It’s] been the collaborative work of the universe, because our director’s original order was to find an actor who holds a close physical resemblance to the real Castro to build from, along with finding someone Alina Fernandez would strongly endorse.”

According to O’Felan, the Alina of Cuba crew heavily scrutinized each potential actor and found that James Franco had “the closest facial likeness [to Fidel Castro] of our Industry’s leading actors.”

Franco’s striking resemblance to Castro means “that the focus would be to build out his character accent. And we’d have a stunning on-screen match to intrigue audiences and bring the story to life with true visual integrity.”