Hollywood multi-hyphenate James Franco is once again facing accusations of sexual harassment and exploitation from women who participated in his Studio 4 acting school, which shuttered in fall 2017. But this time in the form of a lawsuit.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court, Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal state that Franco and his partners “engaged in widespread inappropriate and sexually charged behavior towards female students by sexualizing their power as a teacher and an employer by dangling the opportunity for roles in their projects.” The lawsuit, the details of which are reported in The New York Times, alleges that the bicoastal Studio 4, which Franco operated with his business partner Vince Jolivette, also listed as a defendant in the suit, was little more than a ploy for Franco and his male collaborators to assemble a pool of young actresses to then take advantage of.
The lawsuit harks back to the infamous “sex scenes master classes” referenced by the five women who accused Franco of misconduct back in January 2018. The New York Times states that according to the 2019 lawsuit, “prospective students for the sex scenes class had to audition on videotape — so that Franco could later review the material, they were told — and sign away their rights to these recordings.” Within the master classes, which cost $750 on top of Studio 4 tuition, female participants were denied such industry standards as nudity riders present on the set, and they were encouraged to simulate sex acts way beyond the call of duty.
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Gaal said she recorded an audition for one of the classes, while Tither-Kaplan said she actually did take the class, which was intended as a primer for casting in Franco’s independent films. The lawsuit states that Tither-Kaplan “was often asked to appear in nude scenes or sex scenes. During the making of an orgy scene for one of his films, Mr. Franco removed plastic guards that covered other actresses’ vaginas while he simulated oral sex on them,” per The New York Times.
The lawsuit seeks punitive damages, destruction of any footage taken of class members, and class-action status to encourage other women to come forward about their experiences.
Tither-Kaplan has been vocal about Franco before. When the actor wore a Time’s Up pin in support of the #MeToo movement to the 2018 Golden Globes, she tweeted, “Hey James Franco, nice #timesup pin at the #GoldenGlobes , remember a few weeks ago when you told me the full nudity you had me do in two of your movies for $100/day wasn’t exploitative because I signed a contract to do it? Times up on that!” That ceremony, where Franco won a Globe for his performance in “The Disaster Artist,” also brought to light an ambiguous but troubling accusation from actress Ally Sheedy, who said that working with him made her want to quit show business.
In addition to the claims brought forward by the five women in 2018 — as outlined in a Los Angeles Times report — Franco has faced controversy surrounding his sexual behavior before. In 2014, Instagram messages between Franco and a 17-year-old girl surfaced, forcing the actor to publicly acknowledge that he indeed tried to pick up the minor via the social-media platform.
Time’s Up sent IndieWire the following statement regarding the lawsuit: “The allegations that a group of men ran a sham school and production company all to prey upon young women at the start of their careers are appalling. If these allegations are true, we hope the survivors, and all impacted by this behavior, receive some measure of justice,” said Amanda Harrington, VP of Communications, TIME’S UP Now. “This case lays bare that sexual harassment and abuse is about one thing: power. And if you want to finally end sexual harassment at work, you’ve got to fix the power dynamics at the root of it. Period. That’s why TIME’S UP is so committed to creating a world where everyone has an equal opportunity to reach their full potential at work.”
Franco currently appears on the HBO series “The Deuce,” now in its final season.