James Franco was flying high at the Golden Globes. He picked up the award for Best Actor, Musical or Comedy, and brought his brother Dave and Tommy Wiseau, the eccentric force behind cult hit The Room (on whom Franco’s role in The Disaster Artist was based) on stage with him. Franco couldn’t stop smiling as he thanked Seth Rogen and the other people who had gotten him to this point in his career. Proudly displayed on his lapel was a Time’s Up pin; and that’s when the tremors began. Actress Ally Sheedy tweeted a now-deleted series of missives asking why Franco had been allowed inside the ceremony in the first place. She also said, “James Franco just won. Please never ask me why I left the tv/film business” as well as “Christian Slater and James Franco at a table on @goldenglobes. #MeToo”
Sheedy didn’t elaborate, nor did she respond to requests for comment. Perhaps she was alluding to when she worked with Franco on a 2014 off-Broadway production, and something went wrong. Many other people, however, pointed to a more logical conclusion: the time Franco allegedly tried to pick up a 17-year-old girl by sliding into her DMs on Instagram. Afterward, Franco told Howard Stern that “seventeen is legal in New York,” but also said he “used bad judgment.”
This happened four years ago, but it didn’t seem to preclude any nominating bodies from honouring Franco’s work thus far this awards season. It would take another bomb to drop for voters to reconsider the actor’s chances at an Oscar. On 11th January the L.A. Times published an article in which five women accused the actor and director of inappropriate or sexually exploitative behaviour. (His repeated response to the allegations is to refer to his comments on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and Late Night with Seth Meyers, in which he said the allegations were not accurate, but he supports people coming forward and having a voice.)
Suddenly, the conversation around James Franco changed. He won a Critics’ Choice Award on 11th January, but didn’t show up to collect it, and reportedly received tepid applause. He was forced to slink into the SAGs on 21st January, opting to skip the red carpet, and was probably grateful that he didn’t win. Although Oscar voting hadn’t closed when the L.A. Times article published, the 1,218-member voting block of actors in the Academy responsible for deciding whether or not he’d receive a nomination often wait until the last minute to cast their votes, meaning they could have been influenced by the allegations. And, according to several sources who spoke to the L.A. Times, members who voted early wished they could change their decision.
On the flip side, and most disappointingly, the New York Times spoke to a few Academy members who thought that the accusations against Franco were “small potatoes” compared to “the alleged misdeeds of Harvey Weinstein.” His snub today may have been the result of the Academy’s long-standing bias against comedies. Still, given The Big Sick’s nomination for Best Original Screenplay, it makes sense to presume that it was Franco’s alleged actions that led to a lack of a nomination. Also, The Disaster Artist did receive a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, so it wasn't entirely shut out.
We’re living in a watershed moment, and yet despite all of the good intentions and actions following the fallout of Harvey Weinstein et al, Hollywood doesn't seem truly ready to look in the mirror. While James Franco didn’t receive an Oscar nomination this morning, two people with past histories of abuse allegations did: Kobe Bryant and Gary Oldman. Bryant was nominated for Best Animated Short Film for Dear Basketball. Gary Oldman received a Best Actor nod for his performance as Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hour. Oldman has already scooped up the Golden Globe and SAG Award for his performance, and he appears to be marching steadily towards the Oscar.
Both of these men’s records are marred by their past actions, though. Bryant was arrested in 2003 on the accusation of sexual assault. A hotel employee told authorities the former basketball player had raped her. He admitted that they had sex, but said it was consensual. Bryant publicly apologised to his wife. Per The Hollywood Reporter, Bryant’s accuser refused to testify, so the criminal case was dropped, but a settlement was reached in a civil suit. Bryant’s apology was part of the suit, “but he never admitted fault.”
In November 2017, the Daily Beast published an article titled “Gary Oldman: The Oscar Frontrunner With a Dark Past.” In it, the outlet resurfaced Oldman’s then-wife Donya Fiorentino’s 2001 accusations that he assaulted her with a telephone in front of the couple’s children. “I tried to dial 911. Gary grabbed the phone receiver from my hand, and hit me in the face with the telephone receiver three or four times. Both of the children were crying,” Florentine said. (The actor’s manager said that her claims were investigated by police and the district attorney’s office, and no charges had been filed.)
While neither Bryant nor Oldman admitted fault, the optics here aren’t great for the Academy. If Hollywood is truly committed to changing its behaviour and reversing the power dynamic that has persisted for too long, it would look not only at actor and creators’ professional actions, but their interactions in their personal lives as well — and not just at the current moment of #MeToo and Time's Up. Many people have criticised Hollywood for trying to be the vanguard about a problem that cuts across all industries, particularly plaguing women in working class fields. If the entertainment industry wants awards season to serve as an opportunity to shine a light on society’s insidious power imbalance that gives rise to harassment and misconduct, it can’t overlook men’s past actions in the name of an accomplishment on the road to a little gold statue.
In the cases of Oldman and Bryant, it discounts the voices of women who were brave enough to say “me too” when the silence was still deafening. Plus, it demonstrates that Hollywood's memory is remarkably short when it comes to forgiving men for their misdeeds. Let's not forget this is the community that welcomed Mel Gibson back with open arms at last year's Academy Awards. James Franco may be the bad boy of the moment, but he's not the only one who's ever misbehaved. The Academy would do well to remember that.
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