After news broke Thursday that Portuguese-Swedish-Russian (a.k.a. white) actor James Franco was cast as Fidel Castro in the upcoming film, Alina of Cuba, Latinx people across Al Gore’s Internet were quick to hate on the choice, pointing out all the problems with Hollywood’s continued erasure of our community.
I mean, if they can’t find a Latino actor to play one of the most famous Latinos in history, what roles are we going to get, besides maids and drug runners?
Media mogul and Latinx entertainment’s elder statesman John Leguizamo was quick to condemn the move. As the man behind Latin History for Morons, he reminded us that Franco’s Portuguese ancestry doesn’t make him Latinx—it makes him a colonizer.
“We’re the oldest ethnic group in America after Native Americans. We’ve been here for 500 years and not getting roles,” Leguizamo said in a video posted on his Instagram account. “We’re 30 percent of the box office—I want 30 percent of the roles, okay? Thirty percent. That means out of every 10 movies, three of those should be Latin movies, and out of 10 actors in your Marvel movies, three of those will be Latin actors.”
The thing is, Pedro Pascal is right there, as filmmaker and journalist Dominique Rémy pointed out. “Was Pedro Pascal unavailable?” Rémy asked on Twitter. “Although not Cuban, he makes a lot more sense on every level.”
Ok so I’m not done with this James Franco casting news. Was Pedro Pascal unavailable? Although not Cuban, he makes a lot more sense on every level. He’s also related to Allende, a man Fidel Castro deeply admired and supported. Like…we’re talking one degree of separation here. pic.twitter.com/rgDYsUGLyf
— Dominique Rémy (@canaryfilmmaker) August 5, 2022
Not only is Pascal loved while Franco is reviled —remember those sexual assault allegations?— but Pascal is actually Latino and has some interesting family ties to the Castros—plus more than a passing resemblance.
The brownface implications of Franco as Castro are real as cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz pointed out, managing also to get a quick jab at the actor’s famously difficult preparation process.
— Lalo Alcaraz (@laloalcaraz) August 8, 2022
And it’s not just skin tone. The thing with Anglos playing Latinos is they bring a whole set of privileges, whether they mean to or not. And their ability to dip into our community, extract what they want, and not face any of the discrimination actual Latinx people face is infuriating, to say the least.
But don’t take it from me, as actress Sol Rodriguez illustrated this point perfectly, contrasting the demand on Franco to develop “an accent for Castro” with the demand on Latinx actors to “work hard to get rid of” their natural ones.
Not me reading that James Franco will have to "build" an accent for Castro, when my entire life I've been made fun of for not speaking English like an American and been told countless times to work hard to get rid of it…??
— Sol (@solrodriguez) August 4, 2022
Variety’s senior awards editor and founder of the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association Clayton Davis sees a pattern. In his opinion piece on the matter, he connects Franco’s casting with Leslie Grace’s Batgirl never hitting theaters and the Gordita Chronicles’ cancelation.
For Davis, it’s about Hollywood’s continued lack of respect for our community. “Latinos are not disposable and are not culturally ambiguous,” he wrote. “Latinos are 500 million people that span the globe. Learn about us.”
I agree, and probably so do you. But it’s just going to keep happening if we don’t get loud and rowdy. It’s time for Hollywood to pay some consequences for their racist behavior.
“I really believe this a pivotal moment for the Latinx community in Hollywood,” tweeted Dr. Ana-Christina Ramón, UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report co-author and Latino Film Institute scholar. “The response to the continued exclusion will tell all of Hollywood what we will accept. If no significant financial or public relations ramifications are feared, the status quo will continue.”
I really believe this is a pivotal moment for the Latinx community in Hollywood. The response to the continued exclusion will tell all of Hollywood what we will accept. If no significant financial or public relations ramifications are feared, the status quo will continue. 1/
— Ana-Christina Ramón, PhD (@DrAnaChristina) August 8, 2022
“Don’t accept business as usual,” she continued. “I know some of you are tired. But, let’s make this is a turning point, where we turn towards change for the better.”
For what it’s worth, Castro’s daughter, the real-life Alina Fernández, agrees with the decision to cast Franco as her father.
“James Franco has an obvious physical resemblance with Fidel Castro, besides his skills and charisma,” Fernández told Deadline, while noting that the film is “almost entirely Latino, both in front and behind the camera.”
A writer and activist, Cristina Escobar is the co-founder of latinamedia.co, uplifting Latina and gender non-conforming Latinx perspectives in media. She’s a member of the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association and writes at the intersection of race, gender, and pop culture. Twitter: @cescobarandrade