Pop Culture

Two Women Sue James Franco for Sexual Exploitation in Acting School

Two of James Franco’s former students filed a lawsuit Thursday that alleged the actor and his partners in a now defunct program used the institution as a means of gaining access to young women. The school’s leaders, the suit says, “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.”

“I can’t sleep at night knowing that my coming forward, originally, did not do the work that I wanted it to do yet,” Sarah Tither-Kaplan told the New York Times. “There still has been no action, publicly, that shows me that these people know what they did is wrong and harmful and can’t been repeated.”

Added Toni Gaal, “You have faith in these people, in their credibility, and you trust that won’t be taken advantage of. It’s alarming that you definitely can get manipulated because you’re vulnerable.”

Franco was previously accused of inappropriate behavior by five women in January 2018. Tither-Kaplan was one of the women who spoke with the Los Angeles Times, which first reported the earlier accusations. She said she was a student in Franco’s Sex Scenes master class—and that when Franco later cast her as a prostitute in his film The Long Home, a producer came up to her and other women on set to ask them to take part in an orgy scene. During the making of the scene, Tither-Kaplan said, Franco removed the plastic genital coverings from some of the women’s vaginas to simulate oral sex. The new lawsuit repeats that claim.

Speaking on his client’s behalf at the time, Franco’s attorney, Michael Plonsker, denied all the allegations. Shortly thereafter, Franco addressed the issue during a Late Show appearance, where he told Stephen Colbert, “Look, in my life, I pride myself on taking responsibility for things that I’ve done. I have to do that to maintain my well-being.” Franco called allegations made on social media “not accurate,” but added, “I completely support people coming out and being able to have a voice, because they didn’t have a voice for so long.”

On Thursday, representatives for Franco did not respond to requests for comment from the Times or V.F. The acting school, the Times notes, shuttered in 2017.

The lawsuit includes claims that students at the school were pressured beyond their comfort zone during their classes, and that they were deprived of standard protections including nudity riders. The suit also alleges that entry into a sex scenes class required videotaped auditions—and for prospective students to sign away their rights to the footage. In addition to monetary damages, the plaintiffs are moving to have those video recordings returned or destroyed. The plaintiffs’s attorneys also asked for class-action status.

Time’s Up responded to the lawsuit with a statement: “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.”

“This case lays bare that sexual harassment and abuse is about one thing: power,” the statement continues. “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.”

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