“For a long time, privilege has been feeding privilege. I’m about giving some other people a shot. Like the ladies.” One would probably think this statement was made by someone who values and executes a feminist ideology. Someone who believes women deserve a more level playing field.
But what the quotation ignores is that, in this day and age, it’s about more than just giving women further opportunities. It’s about treating women with the same level of respect and dignity that would be given to any man, powerful or not.
This statement was actually made by James Franco, the 2018 Golden Globe winner for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical, the man accused of sexually harassing multiple women and the man who was not nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor this year.
James Franco’s promotion of liberal values helped garner him a certain level of respect in Hollywood. His newest film, “The Disaster Artist” — which he not only stars in but also directs — amassed widespread critical acclaim. But a good film isn’t enough to receive a nomination from Hollywood’s most prestigious awards ceremony. Moreover, an Oscar nomination shouldn’t just be about a great performance or fantastical presentation; it should go to artists who want to change the industry for the better and present something brilliantly new. It should be about making a difference for the better — which Franco has failed to do.
Of the five women who came forward about Franco’s sexual harassment, four were his undergraduate students. While it’s an altruistic act to dedicate your time to educate young artists, it comes with a personal responsibility to inspire and motivate. When women expressed discomfort about Franco’s behavior or provocatively written roles, they were allegedly asked to leave or were discouraged from participating. Thus, rather than inspiring and motivating his students, Franco taught them one of the most common requirements for women in today’s entertainment industry: To succeed, do whatever you are told by the powerful men in charge, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel.
Franco’s behavior follows the all-too-common film trope of the sexualized student-teacher relationship as portrayed in his book and movie “Palo Alto.” It illustrates that the circumstances we’re used to seeing on screen are not independent of reality. And his behavior demonstrates that those responsible for displaying and perpetuating this trope are not doing so to bring awareness to the issue, but to normalize it.
James’ “snub” in this year’s Oscar nominations was not purposeful. The voting for Oscar nominations ended one day after the accusations against Franco were publicized, but had been open for a week before that. This gave plenty of people time to vote for Franco, ignorant of the new accusations made against him — if they would even allow the accusations to change their minds. While the last day is one of the largest turnouts for Oscar voting, it still seems unlikely that these accusations would have swayed a week’s worth of votes.
Furthermore, the nominations this year — or lack thereof — should be taken with a grain of salt. While they may signify a diverse array of talent and representation, they do not display an improvement of what goes on behind the scenes. There still exists a disparity in roles filled by people of color, both in starring roles and behind the camera. Women are still victims to an industry dominated by male perversion. And Franco’s stories are just some of many that are coming to the attention of the general public.
The New York Times recently published an op-ed claiming that Aziz Ansari was only guilty of “not being a mind reader.” While the article makes some potent arguments about women having the power to speak up, it places all the blame on the victim. What’s more, it ignores parts of the woman’s story vital to why she physically couldn’t speak up and the role Aziz Ansari’s power played in the situation. Frankly, if society wants to see an improvement in the entertainment industry, it should start by destigmatizing male privilege. Then, from there, women will be in a safe and comfortable position to condemn the oppression they face. It’s time for the Francos and the Ansaris of the world to not only claim to be feminist, but have their actions prove it.
If James Franco wants to regain the respect and admiration he received from peers and fans alike, he needs to stop his fearful denial and remedy his behavior. Whether he does so by publicly apologizing — genuinely apologizing — to his victims, writing more female-empowering roles into his films or supporting nongovernmental organizations dedicated to ending sexual assault, he needs to start using his voice to make a difference. Above all, he needs to recognize his inappropriate behaviors and put a stop to them. Franco needs to change both on and off the screen. Maybe then he will receive another Oscar nomination — not just one for which he’s qualified, but one he deserves.
Contact Samantha Banchik at [email protected].