Franco claims add to an awards season of controversy
Recent allegations of sexual misconduct against the actor could reshape race.
By GLENN WHIPP | Los Angeles Times | Published: January 15, 2018
"Can I change my vote?"
That was the question several motion picture academy members were asking after five women accused actor James Franco of inappropriate or sexually exploitative behavior in a Times investigation published Jan. 11.
The allegations -- two of which showed up on Twitter on Jan. 14, the night Franco won a Golden Globe for his lead turn in "The Disaster Artist" -- arrived just as the voting period for Oscar nominations was ending.
Franco, who denies the allegations, is considered a strong possibility for an Oscar nomination for playing Tommy Wiseau. Wiseau became a cult figure after the release of his 2003 film, "The Room," which many critics, official and armchair, call the worst movie ever made.
This year's eight-day Oscar voting window ended the evening of Jan. 12, and, according to several awards season consultants, the heaviest voting days are the first and the last.
Which means Franco could already have banked a number of early votes but lost late ones; the nominations will be announced Jan. 23.
Either way, Franco is a last-minute figure of controversy in an Oscar season rife with it. The fall of Harvey Weinstein, after stories in the New York Times and the New Yorker detailed multiple allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct, triggered an avalanche of accusations against a number of men that reshaped this year's awards season. Weinstein was booted out of the academy, Kevin Spacey was erased from Oscar hopeful "All the Money in the World" and a handful of campaigns died in the planning stages.
Now, with Franco accused by five women of exploiting his position as a teacher and mentor, some academy members are rethinking their pick.
"I voted for him, and reading that story, I regret that I did," said an actress who, like other academy members interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private voting. "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."
Franco's nomination will be decided solely by fellow members of the actors branch, which, with 1,218 active voters, is by far the largest group within the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Speaking to a sliver of that group, The Times found most inclined to distance themselves from Franco to avoid an awkward situation on the night of the Oscars.
"I liked him in 'The Disaster Artist,' but I wish I could have that vote back," said another actress. "We had the Casey Affleck thing last year. It detracts from what we should be doing -- celebrating the work."
Affleck won the lead actor Oscar in February for "Manchester by the Sea," but his awards season appearances were dogged by questions over two sexual harassment suits that were filed against him by two women in 2010 in civil court. Affleck, who settled the cases for undisclosed sums, denied the allegations.
When Brie Larson, a longtime advocate for survivors of sexual assault, presented Affleck with the Oscar, she stepped back and didn't clap while he received a standing ovation; her muted reaction did not go unnoticed. ("I think that whatever it was that I did onstage kind of spoke for itself," she said later.) Now, many are wondering if Affleck will even be invited to this year's ceremony, following the traditional protocol that has the previous year's lead actor winner present the lead actress award.
That same level of scrutiny over optics followed Franco; his decision to wear a pin supporting Time's Up, the initiative recently founded by more than 300 women in the entertainment industry to combat workplace sexual harassment, is what prompted several women to call him out on Twitter.
In addition to tweets by Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Violet Paley, who were part of The Times' investigation, Ally Sheedy posted: "James Franco just won. Please never ask me why I left the film/tv business." The actress, who appeared in a 2014 off-Broadway production of "The Long Shrift" that Franco directed, deleted the tweet shortly afterward.
Appearing on CBS' "The Late Show" Jan. 9, Franco said he had "no idea" why Sheedy wrote that, saying he "had nothing but a great time with her, total respect for her."
Franco also spoke about the other allegations of sexual misconduct, as he did Jan. 10 in an appearance on "Late Night With Seth Meyers." In both interviews, Franco said he had his own side of the story, which he declined to share so as not to speak over the women.
"I believe in these people that have been underrepresented getting their stories out enough that I will hold back things that I could say," Franco told Meyers. "And if I have to take a knock because I'm not gonna try and actively refute things, then I will, because I believe in it that much."
Both talk show appearances had been long scheduled to coincide with the Oscar voting window. Franco had also planned to attend the Critics' Choice Awards on Jan. 11, where he was nominated for two prizes -- lead actor and lead actor in a comedy. Franco won the latter, but didn't show up to accept. When presenter Walton Goggins read Franco's name, the room responded with tepid applause.
Franco is also scheduled to attend the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Jan. 21, where he is nominated for lead actor. At the Spirit Awards, held next month, he is also nominated for male lead.
Whether the Oscars will follow suit is the question of the moment. Franco is currently ranked alongside Gary Oldman, Timothee Chalamet, Daniel Day-Lewis and Daniel Kaluuya as likely nominees on the Gold Derby website, which aggregates predictions from writers covering the awards season.
Tom Hanks, who plays Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee in "The Post," sits closely behind in sixth place.
An academy spokesperson notes that when members submit their ballots, they accept a disclaimer saying that they cannot alter or rescind their vote. So for anyone having a case of Franco remorse, it's too late.
"It'd be ironic this year of all years if Franco gets in just ahead of someone like Tom Hanks," said an actor who added that he voted for both. "But the way things have been going lately, I guess it wouldn't be the Academy Awards without some kind of controversy."