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Jessica Chastain defends casting of Penelope Cruz as Colombian in 'The 355'

Tom Beasley
·Contributor
·2-min read
Jessica Chastain and Penelope Cruz are facing controversy over 'The 355'. (Credit: Ian West/PA Images/Rick Rowell via Getty Images)
Jessica Chastain and Penelope Cruz are facing controversy over 'The 355'. (Credit: Ian West/PA Images/Rick Rowell via Getty Images)

Jessica Chastain has defended the decision to cast Spanish actress Penelope Cruz as a Colombian woman in new thriller The 355.

The movie follows a team of female operatives from all over the world who team up to recover a top secret weapon, with Cruz playing Colombian psychologist Graciela.

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The casting has proved controversial, with a Variety op-ed noting it as an apparent symptom of Hollywood seeing Hispanic and Latinx identities as interchangeable.

Hispanic refers to people who descend from Spanish-speaking countries, while Latinx refers to anyone from Latin America — tied to geography, whereas Hispanic is tied to language.

Watch: Trailer for The 355

Chastain, who serves as a producer for the movie, said Cruz was “incredibly helpful” in securing financing for the movie.

“When I had the idea of making this film, we didn’t have a script or financing,” said Chastain in a statement to Variety.

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“After conversations with our consultant, I brought [Cruz] the idea that she could play a fervent agent from Brazil.

“She mentioned that it wouldn’t be right for her to play a character from Brazil, as the majority language is Portuguese.”

Chastain pointed to the “rich ethnic heritage” of Colombia and stated that she and Cruz opted to frame the character as “a descendant from the colonisation of Spain in the New World”.

Penelope Cruz, Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger and Lupita Nyong'o in 'The 355'. (Credit: Robert Viglasky/Universal Pictures)
Penelope Cruz, Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger and Lupita Nyong'o in 'The 355'. (Credit: Robert Viglasky/Universal Pictures)

The Variety article pointed to several Colombian actors who could’ve taken on the role, including Sofía Vergara or Narcos star Martina García,

Afro-Latina stars like Rosario Dawson and Zoe Saldana were also suggested as ways of correcting under-representation of the African roots of Latinx ethnicities.

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Chastain said she wanted to “move beyond nationalism” in casting the various roles in the movie.

She added: “At the end of the day, it wasn’t important where the characters came from, but that they all come together to form an alliance beyond borders.”

Jessica Chastain in 'The 355'. (Credit: Universal)
Jessica Chastain in 'The 355'. (Credit: Universal)

The 355 is directed by Chastain’s Dark Phoenix filmmaker Simon Kinberg, who also co-wrote the script with Theresa Rebeck.

Chastain pitched the movie to Kinberg and the project sparked a bidding war at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018, with Universal emerging victorious following a $20m (£15.5m) bid.

Alongside Chastain and Cruz, the cast includes Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger, Fan Bingbing and Sebastian Stan.

The 355 is scheduled to be released into cinemas in January 2021.