James Franco's Former Student Alleges He Made Her Feel "Exploited," While Raising An Important Point About Power Dynamics
In the last few weeks following his Golden Globes win on Jan. 7, James Franco has been accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women. (He's called the allegations "not accurate.") On Jan. 23, his former student, actor Sarah Tither-Kaplan, alleged Franco made her feel "exploited" during an interview on Good Morning America. Although she assures that Franco is "absolutely not a Harvey Weinstein" and didn't accuse him of extreme behavior such as rape, Tither-Kaplan did point out why Franco's alleged actions are still a key part of the issue of sexual misconduct at large. (Bustle reached out to Franco's rep for comment, but did not receive an immediate response.)
Tither-Kaplan claims that while taking his master class in Los Angeles, Franco would cut female performers if they didn't participate in the class "sex scenes." According to the actor, the class consisted of sex and nude scenes that made her uncomfortable. "A lot of times they seemed gratuitous or exploitative. [Women who didn’t take part] were asked to leave or asked to not be part of any of the projects," she said. In the interview, Tither-Kaplan explained how taking advantage of "non-celebrity" women felt like an abuse of power.
And although she says Franco is not an "unfeeling monster," she explained why his alleged actions are a significant factor to consider in regard to the #MeToo and Time's Up movements. Tither-Kaplan said,
"It’s a pyramid and at the top is rape and sexual violence, and at the bottom, are the other abuses of power, that, when they continue to happen over and over, build and build and build, they create a culture that allows the most heinous examples of sexual violence and misogyny and discrimination to happen. So if we allow any of them, we allow all of them.
When attending the Golden Globes on Jan. 7, Franco wore a Time's Up pin and took the award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for The Disaster Artist. That night, actor Violet Paley posted a tweet with allegations against Franco, calling him hypocritical for supporting Time's Up.
A few days later, the Los Angeles Times published a piece, which included five women who accused Franco of sexual misconduct or "behavior they found to be inappropriate or sexually exploitative." Four were students, including Tither-Kaplan, and another was Paley. Some alleged that Franco would suggest he'd advance their career if they were compliant. Others said he would get "angry" when women would refuse to be topless or that he allegedly "removed protective plastic guards covering other actresses’ vaginas while simulating oral sex on them" during a nude scene.
On Jan. 9, Franco addressed the claims on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert and denied the allegations. He said,
"In my life, I pride myself on taking responsibility for things that I've done. I have to do that to maintain my well-being... I do it whenever I know that there's something wrong or needs to be changed... The things that I heard 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. I think it's a good thing and I support it... I can't live if there's restitution to be made. I will make it. So, if I've done something wrong, I will fix it. I have to... That's how that works. I don't know what else to do."
Franco did not walk the red carpet at the SAG Awards on Jan. 21, but his famous sister-in-law Alison Brie defended him, while also showing support for the women speaking out. "It remains vital that anyone that feels victimized should and does have the right to speak out and come forward," she told E!. She added that she supports her family (she's married to James' brother Dave), insisting that the allegations aren't entirely accurate.
While further information has yet to be uncovered, it's important to consider Tither-Kaplan's point about the dysfunctional, patriarchal "pyramid" and how destructive it can be overall.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.