Argentina's anguish over Madonna's arrival this weekend to film director Alan Parker's Evita is not just concern over how she will portray their beloved political icon. For many, Evita is nothing less than a saint.
Argentines who recall Madonna's sexy antics on stage with a crucifix, and her erotic stunts in her book Sex, see it as an affront to national pride that she should play Eva Peron.
"Because we love Evita, we're not going to stand for this from a person of such base instincts . . . who has defamed the cross and the church," Luis Guillermo Yaquemet, 59, his voice cracking with indignation, told a meeting of the Peronist faithful in the working-class suburb of Lanus.
For fervent Peronists, who repeatedly refer to Eva Peron as the "Flag-Bearer of the Humble," Parker's choice of Madonna to star in his movie of the Andrew Lloyd-Webber/Tim Rice hit stage musical is deeply offensive.
Driving from the airport into Buenos Aires, where she will rehearse until filming begins Feb. 8, the pop star will pass graffiti saying: "Viva Evita! Out With Madonna."
One Peronist deputy even plans to offer legislation to declare Midnight Express director Parker and his cast, including Hollywood's Latin heartthrob Antonio Banderas and Britain's Jonathan Pryce as Peron, persona non grata.
Madonna sent Reuters a statement this week expressing her pleasure at having "a chance to portray such a great and inspiring woman" after a seven-year quest for the role. Her spokeswoman Liz Rosenberg said the star "has no intention of portraying Eva Peron with anything but the greatest respect."
Public anger also is aimed at Parker, who some fear will reflect in his movie the original stage show's suggestion that Evita was once a prostitute. President Carlos Menem, who personally backs a home-grown movie of Eva Peron's life, told a Brazilian newspaper Friday the film plot was libellous and "a real disgrace."