Former students file sexual exploitation lawsuit against James Franco

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Although students have accused James Franco with sexual assault, Franco and his team have denied the accusations.

Alexandra Zimmer

As radio silence follows yet another accusation of sexual exploitation against James Franco, we are forced to question why nothing is being done to change industry norms and protect artists in Hollywood. 

Award winning actor and director James Franco, as well as his two business partners, have been named in a lawsuit by two former students of his now closed Los Angeles acting school, Studio 4, for using the studio as a means to sexually exploit his students. Studio 4 opened in 2014 with the promise of unique opportunities for the students to be funneled directly into Franco’s own projects. To many young artists with a lack of agency representation and professional connections, Studio 4 was an exceptional opportunity to break into the industry.

However, the experience soured for many students who were spurred to come forward with allegations of sexually exploitative and inappropriate behavior in 2018 when Franco donned a “Time’s Up” pin at the Golden Globes and shared his support for survivors. 

Many of these allegations stem from one of Franco’s Studio 4 classes. The class was called Sex Scenes and required students to attend an audtion with a $750 fee attached in order to enroll. The stated purpose of the class was to teach students how to perform intimate scenes in film. The class boasted opportunities to receive work in real Hollywood productions.

As part of the pipeline for students of Studio 4 to appear in films produced by Franco’s company, Rabbit Bandini Productions, women were often required to submit on-film auditions and in several filmings were asked to appear topless. Franco allegedly would become angered and storm from the room if female students did not volunteer to do so. He is also accused of not adhering by the regular industry practices to protect actresses during the filming of these intimate scenes.

Sarah Tither-Kaplan, one of the women filing a lawsuit against Franco, volunteered to take part in a short-film called “Hungry Girl” for the class and appeared in a nude scene. The film was uploaded to a video sharing website and now Tither-Kaplan’s image has appeared on many pornographic platforms without her knowledge or consent.

“[Franco] would always make everybody think there were possible roles on the table if we were to perform sexual acts or take off our shirts [in his projects],” alleged Katie Ryan, a former student of Studio 4.

These allegations have been denied by Franco’s attorneys and the lawsuit has not gained much press coverage at this time. While it is critical to wait for all the facts to be presented before determining guilt or innocence in the court of public opinion, it does amplify a recurring issue within Hollywood — the exploitation, assault, and harassment of actors by people in power. This comes shortly after the exposure of Harvey Weinstein’s decades of abuse. 

It is time we demand a culture of exposure instead of burial. Since the new wave of the #MeToo Movement in 2017, more and more people have come forward to expose dangerous predators in industries across all spectrums — sports, politics, media, film, art, law enforcement. The common theme in revealing long term abuse is a default protection of people in power who are being accused. This is not a call for the immediate crucification of anyone who has been accused, but a demand for investigation into these accusations. 

We have been subject to a polarized culture surrounding the reporting of sexual harassment and abuse of well-known public figures. 

We demand to know why victims don’t come forward sooner and call them liars when they do. 

We take the word of a politician over that of a survivor because of the party they align with. 

We take the word of an athlete over the word of a survivor because we like the team they play for. 

We take the word of an actor over the word of a survivor because we like the way we look.

We cannot allow these accusations to be dismissed because of these simplistic and idealistic beliefs. 

We must demand proper investigation into allegations of sexual exploitation if we can ever hope to change the culture of it. 

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