UPDATE: The Los Angeles Times reports that five women have accused Franco of sexual misconduct and exploitation on and off set, some of the details of which have been added to this story.
Shortly after James Franco picked up his Best Actor Golden Globe for The Disaster Artist (which he also directed), Twitter lit up, accusing the actor, who was wearing a “Time’s Up” pin in solidarity with survivors of sexual harassment, of being a hypocrite because of his troubling record with women. Since Sunday’s Golden Globes ceremony, The New York Times has canceled an event with Franco to discuss The Disaster Artist and Stephen Colbert asked him about the allegations on his show. The Globes aren’t always a surefire indicator of who will win the Oscar, but in the time of accountability and the #MeToo movement, Franco’s past could tank his Oscar chances, possibly making way for someone like Call Me by Your Name’s rising star Timothée Chalamet to take home the Academy Awards' Best Actor prize.
Last year, Academy voters handed Casey Affleck the Best Actor Oscar for Manchester by the Sea despite the revelation of court documents proving he’d settled two sexual harassment suits while making his 2010 passion project I’m Still Here. Some stories were written about the alarming details of sexual misconduct found in the documents, but the mainstream press largely ignored the icky business of reporting on an accused sexual predator. It wasn’t until Oscar night when Brie Larson, an advocate for survivors of sexual assault, begrudgingly handed Affleck his award while also leading a silent protest from the stage by refusing to applaud his win.
There is an admitted sexual abuser in the White House, and Affleck took home several of the top acting prizes during awards season last year with nary a blip about his treatment of women until Larson called it out on a public stage. But the reckoning for sexual harassers that began when The New York Times published its exposé about Harvey Weinstein and his serial predation in early October shows no signs of slowing, and that could mean a shutout for Franco and The Disaster Artist moving forward.
Even Affleck, who was draped in adulation a year ago, hasn’t escaped this awards season unscathed considering that just a month after the Weinstein story broke, independent director Cameron Bossert circulated a petition to ban Affleck from this year’s Oscars since protocol dictates that a prior year’s Best Actor winner typically presents to the new Best Actress and vice versa.
Even as Franco walked the Golden Globes red carpet brandishing his “Time’s Up” pin (the legal defense fund set up by several high-powered women in the entertainment industry to ensure survivors of harassment and abuse across industries have the financial means and infrastructure to take legal action against their oppressors), women on Twitter accused him of hypocrisy and worse, including actress Ally Sheedy, who starred in an off-Broadway play Franco directed in 2014. Sheedy (High Art, The Breakfast Club, St. Elmo’s Fire) posted several tweets about him, including one saying men like Franco are part of the reason she left the entertainment industry, although she later deleted it.
Addressing the Twitter backlash against Franco’s appearance at the Globes and his win, he told Colbert that he supports and believes in the “Time’s Up” movement. “I was so excited to win but being in that room was incredible. It was powerful and there were incredible voices. I support it. I support change,” Franco said.
But he stopped short of commenting on specific allegations from one Twitter user who accused him of forcing her head toward his exposed penis while in a car and of trying to pick up her 17-year-old friend. If the accusations from a mostly unknown Twitter user of whom fans of Franco demanded she prove the allegations aren’t damning enough, an Instagram exchange from 2014, in which Franco knowingly attempted to meet up with a 17-year-old at a hotel, has resurfaced.
Another Twitter user wrote that for $100 per day he demanded full nudity of her on a film set due to what he said was a contractual obligation.
Hey James Franco, nice #timesup pin at the #GoldenGlobes , remember a few weeks ago when you told me the full nudity you had me do in two of your movies for $100/day wasn't exploitative because I signed a contract to do it? Times up on that!
— Sarah Tither-Kaplan(@sarahtk) January 8, 2018
Still, on Colbert's show, he spoke eloquently about his belief in the movement, although he denied the accusations against him, even going so far to say that he didn’t understand Sheedy’s beef with him because he’d had a “great time” working with her.
“The things that I heard that were on Twitter are not accurate, but I completely support people coming out and being able to have a voice because they didn’t have a voice for so long,” Franco said.
In the days since Franco picked up his Golden Globe, a dark narrative about his behavior with women on and off set has emerged and the number of accusers is up to five as detailed in a Los Angeles Times piece published Thursday. Among those who spoke with the paper are Tither-Kaplan, whose tweets about Franco are mentioned above, and Violet Paley, the young woman who tweeted about the actor whipping out his penis and forcing her head down to give him oral sex.
In the article, Tither-Kaplan shared that she had taken his acting classes and worked with Franco, and although she agreed to some nudity in her contract, he kept pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable. The L.A. Times reported:
“The part required her to perform nude, and she agreed because she considered it a big break. In fact, she signed nudity agreements for each of the films she made with Franco.
But one day on set in May 2015, a producer approached her and other women to ask if they wanted to film a 'bonus scene' of an orgy. In it, Tither-Kaplan appeared fully nude in the background, she said. A handful of other women were selected to appear with Franco, who simulated performing oral sex on each of them, Tither-Kaplan said. But in each case, she said he removed a clear plastic guard that covered their vaginas — and continued to simulate the sex act with no protection.”
Later, when an actress Franco asked to appear topless in a scene made her displeasure with the idea known, he sent her home, Tither-Kaplan told the L.A. Times.
Paley, 23, who admitted to having a consensual sexual relationship with Franco when she was 21 and he was in his late 30s, spoke to the L.A. Times about the power dynamics of the earlier incident in which he pushed her to perform oral sex before they'd become more intimate and before she was ready.
“I was talking to him, all of a sudden his penis was out,” Paley said of the incident. “I got really nervous, and I said, ‘Can we do this later?’ He was kind of nudging my head down, and I just didn’t want him to hate me, so I did it.”
She added that knowing what she does since the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke and the #MeToo movement took root, she would have tried to handle the situation differently.
Franco has since apologized to Paley for his behavior, admitting he should not have entered into a relationship with someone he knew was in recovery for substance abuse, although he also told her he didn't do "anything illegal," she said.
Franco, long a darling of gay men, has played queer in several films, including Milk, Howl, and King Cobra. Additionally, Franco co-directed Interior. Leather Bar, which reimagines the lost 40 minutes of the polarizing 1980 film Cruising; he’s been on the cover of Out; and he’s been quoted as saying, “I’m a little gay and there’s a gay James,” although he clarified that he does not have sex with men.
In a real dramatic twist for awards season, sexual harassment allegations from women against a man who's made a career out of marketing himself to the gay community may open the door for 22-year-old Chalamet, whose performance in the gay-themed love story Call Me by Your Name has been universally praised.
Watch Franco on Colbert below.