James Franco is set to play Fidel Castro in an upcoming biopic about the late Cuban leader’s daughter.
The film, titled “Alina of Cuba: La Hija Rebelde,” is still in pre-production, but Franco’s involvement is already making waves. It will be one of his first acting roles since two women sued him in 2019 over alleged sexual misconduct while he was their acting teacher. In June 2021, Franco agreed to pay $2.2 million to settle the suit.
USA TODAY has reached out to a representative for Franco for comment and further details about the film. Deadline was first to report the news of Franco’s casting.
In an interview with Deadline, “Alina of Cuba” producer John Martinez O’Felan said the film’s team aimed to cast an actor with “Latin roots” who also has “a similar facial structure” to Castro’s. Franco has Portuguese ancestry on his father’s side.
“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,” he said.
After reports surfaced Thursday that Franco will play Castro, Twitter users expressed outrage over his return to Hollywood following his sexual misconduct lawsuit.
“James Franco literally sexually abused several women why would you want him to get ‘un-canceled,’ ” wrote @LifeAsDuck.
“Unless u go to jail, getting me too’d has like a two year expiration date,” wrote @TA1297.
Others took issue with Franco playing a Cuban role.
Playwright and TV writer Tanya Saracho called Franco’s casting “absolute blasphemy.”
“And they had to tie themselves in knots to rationalize it,” Saracho wrote on Twitter, referencing the film producer’s Deadline interview. “For shame. What year is this?”
“I’m a Cuban-born actor. I’ve auditioned for that project (Aline of Cuba), but for a different role. I don’t have anything against James Franco, but playing Fidel Castro. Is this a joke?” wrote Carlo Arrechea.
Actress and writer Jenni Ruiza said she was “so confused by the disrespect the industry continues to give Latine performers.”
“Now James Franco has been cast as Fidel Castro,” she wrote. “Fidel Castro, everyone.”
“James Franco coming back and whitewashing a Latin American figure?” wrote @alessandra_kr. “A double whammy of awfulness. Yay.”
“This is disgusting,” wrote @SarahAnnMasse. “James Franco is a sexual predator and he is neither Cuban nor Latino. Everything about this is wrong.”
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In the lawsuit against Franco, plaintiffs Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal alleged the actor pushed students at his Studio 4 school into increasingly sexual and exploitive scenes on camera. They also accused Franco and his partners of “sexualizing their power as a teacher and an employer by dangling the opportunity for roles in their projects.”
Details of the settlement were made public in a Los Angeles Superior Court filing obtained by USA TODAY in June 2021. According to the filing, Franco was ordered to pay $2.2 million, with $894,000 going “to settle the Named Plaintiffs’ individual sexual exploitation claims” and the remaining $1.34 million to a common fund to settle fraud claims.
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Both parties agreed to the following statement as part of the settlement: “While Defendants continue to deny the allegations in the Complaint, they acknowledge that Plaintiffs have raised important issues; and all parties strongly believe that now is a critical time to focus on addressing the mistreatment of women in Hollywood. All agree on the need to make sure that no one in the entertainment industry – regardless of race, religion, disability, ethnicity, background, gender or sexual orientation – faces discrimination, harassment or prejudice of any kind.”
Franco opened Studio 4 in Los Angeles in 2014 with his business partner Vince Jolivette, who was also named in the complaint along with Franco’s production company Rabbit Bandini Productions. The school closed in 2017.
James Franco agrees to pay $2.2M to settle sexual misconduct lawsuit filed by former students
According to IMDb, the film is about the life of Alina Fernandez, Castro’s exiled daughter, who will be played by “New Amsterdam” actress Ana Villafañe.
Fernandez was born March 3, 1953, from Castro’s affair with Natalia Revuelta, a cardiologist’s wife. Fernandez left Cuba in 1993 wearing a wig and carrying a fake Spanish passport, later describing her feelings of abandonment in the book “Castro’s Daughter — An Exile’s Memoir of Cuba.”
She has since become an anti-communism activist, speaking out against Cuba’s government and her father, who died in 2016 at age 90.
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Contributing: Anita Snow, Associated Press; Brian Truitt, USA TODAY