James Franco has been cast as many things in recent years offscreen, but now the Golden Globe winner is stepping into the role of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
On Thursday, Deadline reported that Franco would play the highly controversial figure in Miguel Bardem’s film “Alina of Cuba.” The movie will center around the life of Alina Fernandez (Ana Villafañe), who was Castro’s daughter with Cuban socialite Natalia “Naty” Revuelta (Mía Maestro) and a detractor of her father’s governing.
The casting comes a month after Franco got a role in Bille August’s upcoming post-World War II film “Me, You,” his first public role announcement since a proposed settlement of $2.2 million was reached between Franco and two of his former students to settle sexual exploitation and fraud claims in 2021.
Currently, neither film has a release date.
The roles are a comeback of sorts for the actor, who has not appeared onscreen since 2019.
His casting as Castro was controversial due to the actor’s sexual misconduct allegations and the fact that Franco is not of Cuban or Latino descent.
In 2018, five women accused Franco of inappropriate or sexually exploitative behavior. Four of the women were his students at the film school he founded and the fifth referred to him as a “mentor.”
One of the women, Sarah Tither-Kaplan, told The Times that in a nude orgy scene she filmed with Franco and several women, he removed protective plastic guards covering other actors” vaginas while simulating oral sex on them.
“I feel there was an abuse of power, and there was a culture of exploiting noncelebrity women, and a culture of women being replaceable,” Tither-Kaplan told The Times in 2018.
Two other student actresses also recalled negative on-set experiences, saying Franco became angry when no women, while at a shoot, would agree to be topless.
“He just took advantage of our eagerness to work and be a part of something bigger,” said Natalie Chmiel, a former student of the actor. “We were all these up-and-coming actors who were so hopeful.”
In an interview with Jess Cagle on SiriusXM in December 2021, the “The Disaster Artist” actor admitted he “did sleep with students” in his film classes.
“Of course, I knew … that’s probably not a cool thing,” Franco said. “I guess it just comes down to my criteria, [which] was like, ‘If this is consensual, I think it’s cool. We’re all adults, so…’”
John Martinez O’Felan, one of the “Alina of Cuba” producers, shed light on the casting decision in a recent statement to Deadline.
“Finding and convincing James Franco to play Castro was a fun and challenging process and has 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.”
Martinez O’Felan also talked about the decision to go with Franco despite his lack of a Latino background.
“[W]e used Fidel Castro’s ancient Galician heraldry as our focal compass, and then combed through the entire ranks of actors with Latin roots in Hollywood to find someone who has a similar facial structure,” the producer said in the statement.
“In executing a close search into our hopefuls through the eye of Spanish and Portuguese genealogy which the Galicians held, we found that James, by far, had the closest facial likeness of our industry’s leading actors, meaning 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.”
Folks online had much to say about Franco’s new role with actor John Leguizamo expressing his disbelief and frustration with the casting Friday morning on Instagram.
“How is this still going on? How is Hollywood excluding us but stealing our narratives as well? No more appropriation Hollywood and streamers!” the Colombian American actor wrote. Boycott! This F’d up! Plus seriously difficult story to tell without aggrandization which would b wrong! I don’t got a prob with Franco but he ain’t Latino!”
Others on Twitter expressed similar sentiments.
“I’m auditioning for another generic Latin-American drug dealer and James Franco is dead ass playing Fidel Castro,” tweeted @IamJeffTorres. “Latinos gettin’ done dirty af out here and everywhere. Damn lol.”
“Gordita Chronicles (starring a Latino family was canceled), Batgirl (starring a Latina was canceled), but James Franco is set to play Fidel Castro in new movie,” wrote @MrRafaelAgustin.
“I’m so confused by the disrespect the industry continues to give Latine performers,” tweeted @RuizaJenni. Now James Franco has been cast as Fidel Castro. Fidel Castro, everyone.”