Days after accepting a Golden Globe with a Time’s Up pin displayed on his lapel, actor and filmmaker James Franco is being accused of sexually-exploitative behavior by at least five women, some of whom first aired their grievances on Twitter during the awards ceremony.
In a statement to the Los Angeles Times, which first reported the allegations, Franco’s lawyer, Michael Plonsker, disputed the claims and referred the paper to Franco’s comments on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert on Tuesday night. During his segment, the 127 Hours and Pineapple Express star said, “I pride myself on taking responsibility for things that I have done.”
“I have to do that to maintain my well being,” he said. “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. So I don’t want to shut them down in any way.”
Accused by students and mentees
Four of the women who accuse Franco of inappropriate or sexually exploitative behavior were students at Studio 4, the film school Franco founded; the fifth says Franco served as a mentor.
Their claims come after Breakfast Club star Ally Sheedy posted cryptic, since-deleted Tweets about the actor after his Golden Globes win on Sunday.
“James Franco just won,” Sheedy tweeted. “Please never ever ask me why I left the film/tv business.”
Among the most egregious accusations against Franco in the Times story is that he removed the protective guard that covered female actresses’ vaginas as he simulated oral sex on them during a nude orgy film scene. (Plonsker told the Times “the allegations about the protective guards are not accurate.”)
In another claim, two student actresses say Franco stormed off a film set after no female actresses involved in a scene took up his suggestion to go topless. (Plonsker said the actor never made that request.)
Sarah Tither-Kaplan, a third student actress who appeared in a Franco film, claims she saw another actress sent home after refusing to appear topless.
Violet Paley, who told the Times that Franco had served as a mentor, ultimately entered a consensual romantic relationship with him, but accuses him of pressuring her to perform oral sex in an encounter in her car that made her feel uncomfortable. Plonsker denied Paley’s allegations to the Times, calling them “not accurate.”
‘Abuse of power’
Tither-Kaplan told the Times that Franco’s behavior constituted an “abuse of power.”
“There was a culture of exploiting non-celebrity women, and a culture of women being replaceable,” said Tither-Kaplan.
The unequal power dynamic between alleged abusers and their victims is a common thread that’s run through many of the stories of sexual harassment and sexual assault that have emerged in the #MeToo era, with producer Harvey Weinstein serving as arguably the most blatant example. Ending that imbalance is a key aim of the Time’s Up campaign that women in Hollywood launched earlier this month and promoted at the Golden Globes, with their all-black fashion statement.
Eyes on the Oscars
As details emerged of Franco’s alleged misbehavior, The New York Times canceled an event with the actor because of the controversy. It remains to be seen if he’ll face more severe consequences, but his case may test Hollywood’s commitment to ending its institutionalized sexism in an especially public way. Franco, who won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical and Comedy for The Disaster Artist, is considered a contender for other acting nods this awards season, and there’s already speculation about whether nominating bodies such as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will take into account the claims against him.