James Franco was among the most glaring Oscar snubs on Tuesday, when his name was not listed as one of this year’s best actor nominees. Franco was considered a shoo-in for the nod after he won a Golden Globe for best actor in a comedy for his performance as Tommy Wiseau in The Disaster Artist.
But during that same telecast, multiple women tweeted their displeasure with Franco’s win, and criticized his decision to wear a Time’s Up pin in solidarity with the victims of sexual abuse and their supporters. “Cute #TIMESUP pin James Franco. Remember the time you pushed my head down in a car towards your exposed penis & that other time you told my friend to come to your hotel when she was 17? After you had already been caught doing that to a different 17 year old?” tweeted the aspiring actress and writer Violet Paley. Four days later, the L.A. Times published an explosive exposé detailing allegations from five women—including Paley—of Franco’s “inappropriate” and “sexually exploitative” behavior, much of which stems from his days as a teacher at Studio 4, the acting and filmmaking school he founded in 2014.
Prior to the article’s release, Franco made the rounds on late-night TV in an effort to quell the gathering storm. “The things that I heard that were on Twitter are not accurate, but I completely support people coming out and being able to have a voice because they didn’t have a voice for so long,” he told Stephen Colbert. “So, I don’t want to shut them down in any way. It’s a good thing, and I support it.”
Despite his best efforts, Franco has quickly become persona non grata in Hollywood. He skipped the Critics’ Choice Awards, where he won best actor in a comedy. And though he attended Sunday’s SAG Awards, Franco was noticeably absent form the red carpet. That same day, Scarlett Johansson not-so-subtly called Franco out in front of 500,000 Women’s March attendees. “How could a person publicly stand by an organization that helps to provide support for victims of sexual assault, while privately preying on people who have no power?” she said. “I want my pin back, by the way.”
So, how much of a role did Franco’s new status as an industry pariah play in torpedoing his chances at Oscar glory? In the months leading up to Tuesday’s announcement, Franco had all the momentum, after earning a handful of major nominations as well as winning top honors at the Gotham Awards and from the Detroit, San Diego, Dublin and Houston film critics organizations. The article from the L.A. Times was published two days before the Oscar voting period closed. It’s reasonable to deduce that most Academy members had already cast their ballots and that Franco—previously Oscar-nominated for 2010’s 127 Hours—was destined to fall short either way. Conversely, it’s possible that last-minute voters changed their minds and opted instead for Denzel Washington, who was considered something of a long shot for his little-seen performance in Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Two things working against the theory that Franco’s exclusion was over the allegations against him are the nominations of The Darkest Hour star Gary Oldman for best actor and Kobe Bryant for his animated short, Dear Basketball. Both men have faced allegations of misconduct before—Oldman in 2001, when his then-wife claimed the actor beat her with a telephone in front of the couple’s two young children (which Oldman denied), and Bryant in 2003, when a 19-year-old woman accused him of rape. Bryant insisted that the encounter was consensual, and the case was eventually dropped after his accuser refused to testify. Bryant settled a civil suit outside of court.
It’s worth asking: If Franco’s Oscar chances were indeed sunk because of the allegations against him, why were Oldman and Bryant recognized? It might have something to do with the invisible line that separates allegations made pre- and post-Harvey Weinstein. There are a number of powerful men with questionable pasts who continue to thrive in Hollywood. The Mel Gibson-starring Daddy’s Home 2 was released a month after the Weinstein story broke, and yet the embattled actor emerged from the film’s press tour unscathed. Casey Affleck, who won last year’s best actor Oscar, was dogged by sexual harassment allegations throughout awards season, and yet he’s still expected to present the award for best actress at this year’s ceremony. Even Woody Allen continues to make movies unencumbered, though it looks like his reckoning is fast approaching.
If Hollywood is serious about creating a culture free of harassment, consistency will be a crucial element in determining a path forward. Holding one person accountable while giving another a hall pass because it’s more convenient will ultimately hinder any real progress. With Franco’s Oscars omission, Hollywood avoided a potential debacle come Oscar night. But with Oldman considered this year’s runaway front-runner, the industry’s second test is not far behind.