Tuesday, August 09, 2022

The curious case of John Leguizamo, Fidel Castro, and Latino Horror Vacui in Hollywood

John Leguizamo, the talented Colombian-born actor who once erred about his own ancestry by claiming that he was Puerto Rican on his father's side (I wonder how his Colombian dad feels about that) and once even carried the charade as the Puerto Rican Day Parade Global Ambassador of the Arts, has an issue with the casting of the upcoming Indie film “Alina of Cuba.”

Specifically with the casting of actor James Franco to play the murderous Cuban dictator Fidel Castro Ruz. The not Puerto Rican actor writes in Instagram:

“How is Hollywood excluding us but stealing our narratives as well?” “No more appropriation Hollywood and streamers! Boycott! This F’d up! Plus seriously difficult story to tell without aggrandizement which would b wrong!” “I don’t got a prob with Franco but he ain’t Latino!” 

The "boycott" was quickly joined in by such luminaries as Nicaraguan-American political strategist and commentator Ana Navarro, and the casting made fun of by Carolina A. Miranda, a really good and influential Wyoming-born Los Angeles Times art critic.

Have not heard of anyone of Cuban ancestry complaining... cough... cough...


Ángel Castro y Argiz
Fidel Castro Ruz, known to many Cubans as "La Bestia de Biran", was born in 1926 out of wedlock in Biran, Cuba. He was the son of Ángel Castro y Argiz, an immigrant to Cuba from Galicia, the former ancient Celtic kingdom in the north of Spain, and Lina Ruz González, his Cuban-born maid who was the daughter of immigrants from Spain. 

That's Castro's father to the right and his mother to the left below.

Fun fact: A lot of Galicians left their rugged mountain villages in northern Spain and settled in Cuba in the early 1900s (including both my paternal grandparents). 

So many in fact, that Cubans routinely refer to all Spaniards, regardless of which region of Spain they come from (Andalucia, Castille, Catalonia, etc.) as "gallegos", which I suspect pisses off most non-Galician Spaniards.  

In my experience, Galicians are a very clannish people, have their own language, customs, etc. and in Cuba even their own community centers, separate from others. In Guantanamo, for example, there used to be a Centro Español and a separate Centro Gallego.

Fidel Castro as a child with his siblings
Fidel Castro as a child with his two of his four siblings

Back to the tempest of Franco being cast to play Castro in the film and not being of Latino ancestry, however widely and confusing that classification is.

Part of me understands that Leguizamo means well, but as often happens when one is too passionate about a debatable issue, he mixes apples mangoes and oranges when making this argument.  Passion is an unforgivable mistress - witness my own conversion when I complained about a Spaniard (Javier Bardem) being cast to play a Santiaguero (Desi Arnaz) - for all the non-Cubans who have jumped into this Franco boycott: A Santiaguero is someone from Santiago de Cuba, which is where Arnaz's family was from.

But distilled to the simplest fact:

  • Latinos don't get enough roles in Hollywood films
  • ALL, repeat, ALL roles where the subject is Latino, must be cast to a Latino/a actor
  • Latino/a actors must also be eligible to be cast to play any and other roles regardless of the racial or ethnic background of the role
A great example of the last rule is the recent (and great) casting of Cuban-born actress Ana de Armas to play American icon Marilyn Monroe - as far as I know, neither Leguizamo, or Miranda, or Navarro bitched about that.

Are Leguizamo, Navarro, and Miranda hypocrites? Maybe, but I don't think so.  What I think they are, is a combination of passionate dogma plus misguided (maybe misfired) good intentions... the alleged Leguizamo trying to pass for a boricua episode bothers me -- sort of like when H.G. Carrillo spent years passing as a Cuban.

Here are better Campello rules to achieve the same goal:

  • Latinos don't get enough roles in Hollywood films
  • Hollywood casting must be sensitive that Latino/a actors come from every racial and ethnic background and must be eligible to be cast to play any and all roles regardless of the racial or ethnic background of the role AND should make an effort to increase Latino/a casting.
  • The casting should go to the best actor for the role.

In this particular case, some points which destroy the Leguizamo effect:

Almost done... now for my own complaining: 

I am having a hard time swallowing an Argentinean actress (Mia Maestro) playing a Cuban woman (she plays Naty Revuelta Clews - Alina's mom - that's Naty to the left).

And Ana Villafañe (she plays Alina): I'm keeping my eye on you! You're only half Cuban! Cough... cough...

Campello out.