James Franco is the latest man in Hollywood to be accused of sexually inappropriate behavior following the Harvey Weinstein accusations that exposed the industry's deep-seated culture of sexual misconduct last year. In a new report from the Los Angeles Times, Franco, 39, is accused of sexually inappropriate and exploitative behavior by five women, including former acting students who believed the actor could advance their careers if they adhered to his desires.
The bombshell report comes just days after Franco took home the Golden Globe for his starring role in The Disaster Artist, a film he also directed. Franco also received heat on social media for wearing a Time's Up pin on his lapel on the red carpet — a symbol of solidarity with victims of sexual harassment — while being an alleged perpetrator of the very behavior the initiative aims to eradicate from the industry. That night, Sarah Tither-Kaplan, a former student at the acting school Franco founded, called out the actor for his "exploitive" behavior.
According to the Los Angeles Times report, Tither-Kaplan was asked by Franco in 2015 to play a prostitute in his feature film The Long Home. She agreed to the nudity in the film — she signed a nudity agreement — because she believed the small role would be good for her career, but one day on set a producer asked Tither-Kaplan and a few other women if they would film a "bonus" orgy scene. The scene was not written into the script.
She agreed to appear in the background fully nude but became uncomfortable when Franco, whose character was performing oral sex on a handful of other women, allegedly removed the clear plastic guards that covered their vaginas and "continued to simulate the sex act with no protection."
"I got it in my head pretty quickly that, OK, you don't say 'no' to this guy," she said. (The casting director who worked on the film told the Los Angeles Times that she "personally checked" on all of the actresses to make sure they were comfortable during filming.)
Other women, including former students Hilary Dusome and Natalie Chmiel, said that Franco would put "female students in uncomfortable situations beyond the normal parameters of acting class." Dusome recalled how the actor became upset during a shoot when none of the actresses agreed to take their tops off. The shoot was reportedly for a 7 For All Mankind jeans commercial.
Katie Ryan, another former student, said Franco "would always make everybody think there were possible roles on the table if we were to perform sexual acts or take off our shirts" [in film projects].
Violet Paley said she looked at the actor as a mentor of sorts after he agreed to give her notes on a script she had written in 2016. Not long after, they started a consensual romantic relationship. But Paley alleged that Franco once pressured her into performing oral sex on him while in her car. "That time wasn't consensual," she said. Paley also alleged on Twitter that he told her 17-year-old friend to meet him in a hotel — not unlike the 2014 incident in which he tried to pick up a 17-year-old girl on Instagram.
Franco's attorney has denied Paley's allegations, reports the Los Angeles Times. Deadline also reports that HBO has "verified" that there haven't been any complaints about Franco's behavior on the set of his ongoing series The Deuce.
Franco himself has publicly denied any wrongdoing on the late-night circuit, telling Stephen Colbert, "I pride myself on taking responsibility for things that I've done... The things that I heard 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. I don't want to shut them down in any way."
"So if I've done something wrong, I will fix it," he added. "I have to."
As for how this will affect Franco's chances this awards season, that remains to be seen. Last year, Casey Affleck won the Oscar for Best Actor, despite several sexual harassment allegations against him. But that was then, and this is now — and women will no longer be silenced. And to all of those men who abuse their power to exploit women: time's up.