Less than two weeks ago, the Los Angeles Times published an investigation in which five women accused James Franco of “inappropriate or sexually exploitative behavior,” leading many to believe that the prolific actor would be the next powerful Hollywood player in the #MeToo movement whose career would fall in atonement for his actions.
Was Franco’s Oscar snub this morning the first punishment?
The Times investigation coincided with the prime of Franco’s campaign for what had seemed to be a sure-thing Best Actor nomination for The Disaster Artist, in which he stars as Tommy Wiseau, the notorious director and star of The Room, widely believed to be the worst film ever made. (In a meta twist, Franco also directs the film.)
In fact, Franco was delivering an acceptance speech at the Golden Globes for Best Actor in a Comedy when a series of tweets went viral that criticized the actor for wearing a Time’s Up pin to the ceremony in support of victims of sexual abuse and harassment. “Cute #TIMESUP pin James Franco. Remember the time you pushed my head down in a car towards your exposed penis & that other time you told my friend to come to your hotel when she was 17? After you had already been caught doing that to a different 17 year old?” read a tweet from one accuser.
(In response to the allegations, Franco has said: “I have my own side of this story, but I believe in, you know, these people that have been underrepresented getting their stories out enough that I will, you know, hold back things that I could say just because I believe in it that much. And if I have to take a knock because I’m not going to, you know, try and, you know, actively refute things, then I will, because I believe in it that much.”)
At a time when repercussions for men accused of misconduct have come with a sharp swinging axe, it would be logical to assume the allegations torpedoed the star’s Oscar chances.
The truth is that it’s impossible to tell how, if at all, the allegations and Franco’s response affected Oscar voters and his nomination, let alone make a judgment as to whether his exclusion in the Best Actor category could be viewed as the Academy condemning his behavior at all.
When Tiffany Haddish and Andy Serkis announced that Timothee Chalamet, Daniel Day-Lewis, Daniel Kaluuya, Gary Oldman, and Denzel Washington were the Best Actor contenders and not Franco, most pundits were shocked because the reasoning is more likely due to voters not warming up to his Disaster Artist performance—not because of any reaction to the allegations against him.
In fact, voters’ affinity for Denzel Washington, whose nomination came as one of the biggest shocks Tuesday morning, may even be the biggest factor of all.
When the Los Angeles Times story broke on January 11, voters had already been submitting their Oscar ballots for nearly a full week; voting began on January 5. When the story published, less than 48 hours remained before voting closed.
Who knows how many voters fill out their ballots early and how many wait until the last minute. But it’s highly likely that enough had submitted their choices and sealed his fate before the Times story broke.
Anecdotally, there were many voters who had already put Franco on their ballots, and regretted it.
According to the Los Angeles Times, a number of voters have expressed Franco remorse and wish they could have changed their votes in light of the new information. Yet, as The New York Times reported, another contingent of voters met the allegations with a shrug, feeling they were “small potatoes, especially compared with the alleged misdeeds of, say, Harvey Weinstein, to name just one.”
Plus there are those quick to point out that whispers of Franco’s unsavory behavior had been somewhat of an open secret, especially after a public controversy in which he was caught trying to arrange a hookup with a 17-year-old through Instagram DMs. It seems as if every awards body has already been willing to look past all that.
There are also those who were frustrated that the allegations against Franco are being sloppily aggregated under the banner of “sexual misconduct”—there’s a reason the Times’ headline includes the labored phrase “inappropriate or sexually exploitative behavior”—and therefore equated to the sexual abuse and assault other men are accused of, when the specifics of the allegations refer more to an abuse of power on set.
Of course, it is impossible to gauge how many down-to-the-wire voters there really were. It is likely that those 11th hour voters took the reports into account, not to mention how a nomination for Franco would play against the broader conversations that are currently being had in the industry.
One of the tenets of the Time’s Up movement is to put an end to a pattern of behavior that leaves women feeling preyed on, unsafe, and pressured by power dynamics on set. These are awful allegations, including one anecdote in which Franco removed a “vagina guard” while performing an oral sex scene with a young female costar. An industry purportedly emboldened to rectify decades of such brazen and boorish behavior would surely color their voting given that information.
Regardless of the reasoning for Franco’s snub, the Academy saved itself from an uncomfortable situation—the one the Critics Choice Awards, at which Franco won another Best Actor in a Comedy trophy, and the Screen Actors Guild Awards, where he was a nominee, found themselves in, with voting taking place before the allegations were made public.
Yet because of its visibility and influence, there is more intense scrutiny on the actions and decisions of the Academy, and the message those actions and decisions send.
A pall followed last year’s awards season when Casey Affleck kept picking up trophies even as past sexual harassment allegations made against the actor dominated conversation throughout his campaign, with Affleck’s eventual victory at the Oscars deemed a cringe-inducing condoning or dismissal. The Academy would obviously have liked to avoid a similar narrative this year. (Already, it finds itself in the awkward position of whether to invite the actor to present at the ceremony, as is tradition with all the previous year’s winners.)
The Academy also took a historical stand following the Harvey Weinstein allegations and expelled him from the organization, the first time it has ever kicked out a member because of their personal behavior. (The only other time had been because a voter broke Academy rules about sharing screeners.) The decisiveness and power of that stand is no doubt tempered when an actor accused of sexual misbehavior is a nominee that very same year.
It resurfaces what was a loud critique, or at least hesitation, surrounding the Weinstein move: what is the line? There is an ever-growing number of members being exposed by the #MeToo movement who have engaged in sexual misconduct, abused their power, or were complicit in fostering an unsafe industry.
At the time, some cautioned against the “slippery slope” of litigating personal behavior, and others pointed to the hypocrisy of booting Weinstein while the likes of Roman Polanski, Bill Cosby, and Mel Gibson were still in. With so many other men implicated to various degrees—former winners Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman, and Paul Haggis among them—what happens now?
It’s a complicated conversation with no simple conclusion. Franco’s exclusion from the Best Actor category might be owed to the allegations against him or they may be owed to the Academy’s taste; the Oscars are notorious for scoffing at comedy, after all, and Franco’s performance is purely that. But for many, it brings with it a sense of poetic justice at a time in Hollywood when justice and reparations are on the tip of everyone’s tongue.