(original title: Sugar royalty in Palm Beach presses CBS not to smudge family in series)
By SUSAN SALISBURY | Palm Beach Post
Coming this fall: an epic television drama from CBS about a wealthy Cuban-American family in the sugar cane business.
A video clip of the series - it’s called Cane - on the network’s Web site opens with a party in Palm Beach.
Any of that sound familiar?
Click on the image to watch the Fall preview trailer and this clip too
If you’ve lived around here for a while and those details remind you of the Fanjul family of Palm Beach, you’re not alone. The Fanjuls think Cane might remind viewers of them, and they’re not really happy about it.
Joseph Klock Jr., Miami-based general counsel for the Fanjul’s West Palm Beach holding company, Flo-Sun Inc., said Friday lawyers for the Fanjuls are in communication with CBS and the scripts are being reviewed.
“We want to make sure it is absolutely clear it has nothing to do with the Fanjuls or their companies,” said Klock, of Epstein Becker & Green. “None of this conduct is the kind of conduct the Fanjuls engage in.”
Cane, which some industry observers describe as a “Cuban Sopranos,” is filled with the usual TV mayhem you’d expect from a glitzy prime-time soap: sex, violence and murder. There’s also an internal power struggle between two brothers in the powerful, fictional Duque family. The chief protagonist in the series is Alex Vega, an adopted son of the Duques played by Jimmy Smits, a well-regarded actor of Puerto Rican descent most recently featured on The West Wing.
“I would think if CBS wants to produce some sort of entertainment series that has a bunch of slimy people doing slimy things, they would do everything in their power to make sure the good reputation of the Fanjuls and their company are not even remotely implicated,” Klock said.
Gaston Cantens, a spokesman for Florida Crystals Corp., the Fanjul’s Florida sugar company, said Cane has some obvious parallels between the Duques and the Fanjuls.
“It portrays one prominent Cuban-American family in the sugar business, and that is the Fanjuls,” Cantens said, adding that the Fanjuls are the only Cuban-Americans with a sugar business that includes hundreds of thousands of acres in Florida, which describes the Duques of Cane.
For its part, CBS says it’s just a story.
“Cane is a completely fictional series and is not based on any members of the Fanjul family or any other real persons,” said Jennifer Solari, a Studio City, Calif.-based publicist with CBS Paramount Network Television. “We have given these assurances to representatives of the Fanjul family in response to their inquiries.”
Members of the Fanjul family would not be available for comment, Klock said.
Chuck Elderd, who heads the Palm Beach County Film and Television Commission, couldn’t be happier about the series.
“This is a CBS show. It took place in Palm Beach County. That’s huge,” Elderd said. “It is a class cast and very professionally done. From that viewpoint, it is a wonderful thing for Palm Beach County.”
Other members of the Cane cast include Hector Elizondo, Rita Moreno and Nestor Carbonell.
“It’s fiction. It is based on the fact a lot of the sugar business in Florida was the result of people emigrating from Cuba,” Elderd said. “It is not based on any family. The similarity ends there.”
The show also could boost interest in Florida’s sugar industry, Elderd said.
“People will get curious about sugar cane,” he said. “There will be more interest in sugar cane and the things that are happening with it.”
The chief screenwriter of Cane is Cynthia Cidre, the Cuban-born daughter of a sugar chemist who grew up in Miami and was pursuing doctoral studies at the University of Miami when she began writing for the film industry. Cidre could not be reached for comment.
“It’s a hot show. It’s very rich in terms of the quality of the show, the color and culture,” said a CBS spokeswoman who spoke only on condition of anonymity. “The number one show internationally is CSI: Miami. The draw to South Florida is a huge selling point, which is why the whole international community has embraced this show.”
Most of Cane will be shot in Los Angeles, with some scenes shot in Miami or Palm Beach County, the spokeswoman said.
Elderd said the commission received a call several months ago from the governor’s film commission, saying CBS was looking to shoot a pilot with a unique theme and needed sugar cane fields. The county film commission arranged the shooting at U.S. Sugar Corp.‘s fields near Pahokee in late March.
U.S. Sugar spokeswoman Judy Sanchez said a car scene was filmed in the cane field in one day.
“What I get a sense of is that it is supposed to be some sort of Dallas-y show, a family drama with action,” Sanchez said. “Who knows where they are going to take this thing?”
The depiction of Florida’s sugar cane industry might not be especially accurate, she said.
Sanchez said producers asked her to find some cane cutters. She told them cane is harvested mechanically now, but the producers said hand-cutting with machetes would be “more romantic.”
The dialogue also includes a reference to sugar as “the new oil” and a statement that it is 10 times more efficient to produce ethanol from sugar than from corn, which industry experts say isn’t true.
Barbara Miedema, spokeswoman for the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida in Belle Glade, which includes the Fanjuls in its membership, said she doesn’t see much realistic about Cane. “From what I have seen, it looks like pure fiction.”
The Fanjul sugar empire was founded in 1960 by brothers Alfy and Pepe Fanjul, who came to the United States a year after Fidel Castro’s revolution. Flo-Sun, the holding company for the Fanjul interests, owns the Domino, C&H and Florida Crystals brands of sugar and grows about 10 million tons of cane on 400,000 acres of land in Florida and the Dominican Republic, according to its Web site.
It also produces 50 million gallons of molasses, 50 million pounds of rice, 2.3 million crates of corn and 65 million gallons of furfural, a cereal-waste byproduct with industrial uses such as solvents and dyes. Unlike the Duque family in Cane, the Fanjuls do not make rum.
Flo-Sun and its subsidiaries employ about 25,000 people and post annual revenues of $2.5 billion.
Cantens, the Fanjul spokesman, said when the family first learned about Cane a few months ago, they thought it was going to be a documentary. They learned differently a few weeks ago, he said.
“Someone sent me an e-mail. Then it went to the legal end of the building,” Cantens said.
“People are going to say, ‘Oh, my God, it must be about the Fanjuls,’” he said. “That is their concern: if there are going to be similarities.”
The Fanjuls are proud of their history, Cantens said.
“They have done things the right way and grown their business through hard work and sacrifice and become successful at it, to live the American dream,” he said.
Headquarters: West Palm Beach
$2.5 billion in revenues
10 million tons of sugar cane
3.5 million tons of refined sugar (Domino, C&H, Florida Crystals)
Renewable energy: largest biomass power plant in the United States
Casa de Campo Resort,
50 million gallons of molasses
65 million pounds of furfural alcohol
2.3 millon crates of corn
50 million pounds of rice
Source: Flo-Sun Inc.