The casting of James Franco as Fidel Castro sparked a wave of backlash

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When news broke last week that actor James Franco would play Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro in the upcoming film “Alina de Cuba”, a wave of backlash ensued. Latinos on the internet and in the film industry have denounced the casting of a non-Latino white actor as the latest blatant example of Latino discrimination in Hollywood.

Actors, pundits and even politicians have since argued that more should be done to correct the historic exclusion of Latinos at a pivotal time in Hollywood, where there is public demand for more inclusion and diversity in the industry. .

But the controversy has also sparked a wider debate online: Who has the right to play what kind of role? Should an actor’s ethnic origin, race or nationality match the character? Some have argued that artistic freedom and skill should be the guiding principle.

“It’s about people who are tired of the lack of Latinx representation in the industry, the continued erasure of the community, and people who don’t make an effort to authentically play these roles,” said Ana-Christina Ramón , co-author from UCLA. “Hollywood Diversity Report”, which charts the representation of different ethnic groups on and off screen.

The story made national headlines after Colombian American actor John Leguizamo, who wrote and starred in the Broadway production “Latin History for Morons,” took to Instagram to condemn the decision.

“How is it still going? he said on Instagram. “How does Hollywood exclude us but also steal our stories? No more Hollywood appropriation and streamers! Boycott!”

“We’re 30% of the box office – I want 30% of the roles, okay? Thirty percent,” the actor said in another video posted on Instagram. “That means out of 10 movies, three of them should be Latin movies, and out of 10 actors in your Marvel movies, three of them will be Latin actors.”

Latinos make up more than 18% of the population, but make up just 5.7% of movie roles in 2020, according to UCLA’s 2021 “Hollywood Diversity Report.” Representation on the small screen is equally grim: Latinos made up just 6.3% of the share of TV roles aired during the 2019-20 season, according to the same report.

The Castro The film is based on a screenplay by José Rivera, who is Puerto Rican, and Nilo Cruz, a Cuban-American. It follows the true story of Alina Fernández (played by Cuban-American actress Ana Villafañe), a Cuban exile turned social activist, born of the love affair between Cuban socialite Natalia Revuelta and “El Comandante”, Castro’s nickname.

Miguel Bardem, who is Spanish, is signed to direct.

Fernández – who learned Castro was his father when he was 10 and would become a fierce critic of his regime – expressed his approval of Franco’s casting, praising the “obvious physical resemblance to Fidel Castro” as well as his ” skills and charisma,” she said in an interview with Deadline.

Franco’s agent and publicist did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

John Martinez O’Felan, the project’s lead creative producer, told Deadline they were looking for an actor with a “close physical resemblance” to Castro and focused on his “Galician heraldry”, adding that Franco, whose father is of Portuguese origin, best fits this mould.

O’Felan did not immediately respond to a Washington Post request for comment. In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, he also dismissed Leguizamo’s criticism that Franco was not Latino as “culturally uneducated” and misguided, representing the “confusion and identity crisis in Hollywood” over who should identify as Latino.

The term “Hispanic” is used to describe people from the Americas and Spain who speak Spanish or are descended from Spanish-speaking communities; while “Latinx”, a gender-neutral alternative to Latina or Latino, describes people with Latin American roots. The two can overlap and are often used interchangeably.

O’Felan’s technical argument misses the point, Ramón said. The Cuban leader was a historically known Latin American figure who had a huge impact on the lives of the people of Cuba and Latin America and, given his ancestry, should have been represented by someone with the same origins Latin – or at least Spanish origins, said Ramón. , who is director of research and civic engagement for UCLA’s division of social sciences.

Film critic Carlos Aguilar has argued that the current push for greater representation of people of color in Hollywood makes the lack of representation and ownership of Latino roles by non-Latino actors much harder to go unnoticed.

“Hollywood used to get away with it all, pretty much without repercussions, but things are starting to change. It just doesn’t fly anymore,” Aguilar said.

Leguizamo and others have cited several examples in recent days of white actors playing Latino roles over the years – from Marlon Brando playing Mexican revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata (1952) to Al Pacino in “Scarface” portraying a Cuban immigrant turned drug kingpin Tony Montana.

The conversation about inclusion in Hollywood has drawn attention to other casting controversies. In 2018, for example, Ed Skrein faced a fierce backlash from the Asian American community when he was cast in “Hellboy” as Ben Daimio, a comic book character of Japanese descent.

The outrage was such that Skrein decided to step down from the role.

As the controversy unfolded, some people on social media argued that actors should have the artistic freedom to play any character, regardless of race, ethnicity or nationality, and be chosen on the sole merit of talent.

But experts say it would be an ideal scenario if, in fact, the rules of the game were level playing field. For Latinos, this has never been the case.

“But those making this argument seem to forget that we are of course on this path of correcting positive and meaningful representation of Latinx in the industry, but we’ve only just begun to address the historic lack of representation,” Aguilar said. . “But we’re not there yet, so it’s still a utopia.”

Aguilar and Brown say Latinos are rarely cast in roles that aren’t explicitly Latino, often pigeonholed into stereotypical gangster or maid characters, or overlooked for lead roles if they aren’t explicitly written as Latinos. .

“There just aren’t enough roles for them, so when you don’t even consider them obvious characters like these historical figures, directly tied to their identity, you’re basically saying there’s no place for them in this industry,” Aguilar said.

News of Franco’s casting came after Warner Bros. Discovery announced it would not be releasing “Batgirl,” starring Afro-Latin actress Leslie Grace, and the cancellation of HBO Max’s comedy series “Gordita Chronicles.” which chronicles the experiences of a girl from the Dominican Republic and her family adjusting to their new American life in Miami.

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D) said Sunday that the halting of the two projects shed light on what he called “systemic Latino racism” in the entertainment industry.

“When your industry is based in Los Angeles, a 47% Latino city, but Latinos are only 6% of the industry, that’s a pretty strong case for systemic racism in a ‘liberal’ industry,” said he wrote about Twitteradding that it has created a “gap in the narrative” of Latin American history, culture and contributions.

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