The Oscars are better off without a Franco nom
See who made the Academy's short list for actress and actor in a leading role. USA TODAY
The Oscars won't be repeating a Casey Affleck moment with James Franco this year.
It was hard not to breathe a sigh of relief early Tuesday morning when the Oscar nominations were announced and Franco's name was absent from the best-actor list.
The star of The Disaster Artist, 39, faced recent allegations of sexually inappropriate and exploitative behavior on Twitter and in the Los Angeles Times. His absence from the Oscar nominations list suggests that the Me Too movement is already impacting the entertainment industry in big and fast ways, considering how close to the voting deadline the allegations surfaced. But not nominating Franco also saves the Oscars from having to tiptoe around his presence on the big night and at pre-awards events. It lets the conversation about workplace harassment and parity go on without litigating the specifics of Franco's case.
Before the allegations surfaced, awards pundits predicted Franco would nab a nomination for his role in The Disaster Artist. He hit the campaign trail this winter to promote his critically acclaimed performance, and he took home some early awards, including a Golden Globe for best actor in a comedy while wearing a Time's Up pin, signaling his support for the initiative devoted to addressing sexual harassment and gender inequity.
However, Franco's Oscar campaign came to a screeching halt just after the Globes when allegations first surfaced on Twitter and a few days later when the Times story broke, in which five women accused him of inappropriate sexual behavior. In fact, just before the Oscar nominations announcement Tuesday, two of Franco's accusers appeared on Good Morning America asking the actor to "please just apologize."
Franco's alleged behavior presented a problem for the Academy, which recently instituted a code of conduct in the wake of multiple members being accused of sexual harassment, misconduct and assault. The allegations against Franco, which broke the day before the voting deadline for nominations, caused some voters to change their minds about him, or even ask the Academy if they could change their votes, according to the Times. The paper quoted one anonymous actress saying, "The last thing we need, right in the middle of all this talk about sexual harassment and gender inequity in Hollywood, is someone like that as an Oscar nominee."
The actress is right. Recently the conversation around Me Too has been divided and muddied over the severity of public allegations. A Babe.net report about Aziz Ansari, in which an anonymous woman accused him of pressuring her into sexual acts, caused an online firestorm, some suggesting Ansari's accuser had hurt the movement, with others defending her statements.
While it's good that the conversation around Me Too continues, and continues to take different forms, the Oscar telecast is not a good venue for arguing specifics. Having a man accused of misconduct at the show would undermine efforts from filmmakers involved in the Time's Up initiative and any speeches or plans in support of gender equality. Simply put: Franco's presence would be a distraction.
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Franco's accusers include four former students from his Studio 4 film school. One accuser said that Franco's behavior became predatory during a sex scene he shot with multiple actresses for the film The Long Home. She alleged that he removed protective plastic guards covering their genitals while simulating oral sex.
The actor responded to the accusations on an appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.
"Look, in my life I pride myself on taking responsibility for things that I have done,” he told Colbert. “I have to do that to maintain my well-being. 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."
The Academy has already gone through this, although we were in a different cultural moment. Casey Affleck won the best-actor Oscar last year for Manchester By the Sea, despite the fact that two lawsuits alleging sexual harassment resurfaced during Oscars season. His win was decried by many on social media and Brie Larson, who presented the Oscar to Affleck, didn't applaud him, an act she said was "intentional." It's hard to imagine Affleck winning an Oscar this year, and now we don't have to wonder what will happen with Franco.
Separating the art from the artist is a perennial question in Hollywood, one that has been posed more as allegations of bad and criminal behavior have poured out in the wake of Harvey Weinstein's downfall. And while it's impossible to know how much the allegations against Franco influenced Oscar voters, this is the best outcome for Me Too and the Academy. And The Disaster Artist still received a nomination for best adapted screenplay.
This year the Oscar race is simply different, after an activist-focused Golden Globes and a mostly business-as-usual SAG Awards. It's impossible to predict how much Me Too and Time's Up will be part of the Oscars, but the race does not have room for someone accused of bad behavior.
Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele are among the five nominees for the Academy Award in directing. USA TODAY