After expressing his outrage over James Franco being cast as Fidel Castro in the independent feature drama Alina of Cuba, Primetime Emmy winner John Leguizamo has expounded on his stance regarding Hollywood casting non-Latinos in Latino roles. Specifically, in an Instagram post earlier today, he says “Alright, look, I got no problems with James Franco, yo, OK?” while explaining, “I grew up in a era where Latin people couldn’t play Latin people on film.”
Also earlier today, Alina of Cuba producer John Martinez O’Felan released a statement defending the casting of Franco who is of Latin-Portuguese heritage and responding to Leguizamo’s initial protest, saying “I want to point out that his odd comments, if you base them on genealogy, are a blind attack and lack any factual substance.”
Deadline first told you about Franco playing El Comandante in the Miguel Bardem directed Alina of Cuba from Oscar-nominated scribe José Rivera (The Motorcycle Diaries) and Pulitzer Prize winner Nilo Cruz about Cuban exile-turned-social advocate Alina Fernández aka Castro’s daughter, whose birth was the result of a passionate affair between the Communist revolutionary leader and Natalia “Naty” Revuelta. Mía Maestro will play Revuelta while Ana Villafañe plays Castro’s daughter Fernández.
In Leguizamo’s follow-up post, which you can see below, he explains how he grew up and worked in Hollywood at a time “where Charleston Heston played a Mexican, where Eli Wallach played Mexican, where Pacino played Cuban and Puerto Rican, where Ben Affleck even in Argo played a Latin guy and Marisa Tomei playing Latin women.”
“We couldn’t play our own roles,” says the To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar actor. “There was brown face: People painting themselves to look Latin in West Side Story…..”
“That’s the era I grew up in. The era where they told you to change your name, stay out of the sun, that only white Latinos or white-passing Latinos would get jobs and they weren’t even the main leads,” continued Leguizamo.
“Cause…’There’s no Latin actor who can carry that movie.’ Yeah because you’re never given the opportunity to play anything that was of worth that had worthy value, that was an integral part of the plot that could give you box office,” the actor added.
“So, no, no. Appropriating our stories — no more of that. I’m done with that,” asserted Leguizamo.
“Why can’t Bruno Mars be Mr. Hernandez? Or Oscar Isaac these days be Oscar Isaac Hernandez? Because they can’t. I’ve been told so many times you can’t have two Latin people in the movie, otherwise people think it’s a Latin movie. Or Latin people don’t want to see Latin people, they want to see white people in roles. That’s what I’ve been told. That’s what goes on in this industry.”
Leguizamo summed up, “It should be an equal playing field, we should be able to play whatever role, but that’s not the way it works. It only works one way. OK? That’s just how it is.”
The actor then followed up his Instagram post with another listing all the non-Latino actors who played Latino roles, i.e. Anthony Hopkins as El Zorro in The Mask of Zorro and Eli Wallach as Tuco in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and Calvera in Magnificent Seven.
Alina of Cuba producer Martinez O’Felan, responding to Leguizamo’s Friday rant, said in a statement obtained by Deadline, “For one, let’s take a historical look at true Latinism in today’s mass culture of Hispanics, because a territory does not define a person’s blood trail. What I mean when I say that is that to 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.”
Martinez O’Felan continued, “Moreover, I’ve never met Leguizamo but felt the calling to address the fact that he’s attacking me and my work based on false information because I’m actually not Hollywood as he’s insisted: I was born as a 4th generation Hispanic from Texas from an Iberian/ Indigenous Mexican, and have been the visionary behind this project since its beginning. Moreover, I’ve also spent 16 years developing this around and with the support of Ms. Fernandez, and took the time to find a female as the lead with Cuban roots, so he’s also attacking the feminine focus on this title unfairly. This is a film based on a Latin female immigrant living in America who is of historical importance, led by a Latin woman, and I’m just an underdog who is making it, so it’s kind of disappointing to see our work getting attacked by someone we thought would celebrate it. If he hates it and wants to ban it, oh well, I’ll still probably watch his movies because he’s been one of my favorite actors for the last 30 years.”