If you had James Franco in your office pool as the next Hollywood mogul who would be accused of sexual misconduct then, congratulations, you win!
Five women, in interviews with the Los Angeles Times, accused Franco “of behavior they found to be inappropriate or sexually exploitative.” About the allegations, Franco said on the Stephen Colbert show: “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. So I don’t want to, I don’t want to shut them down in any way. I think it’s a good thing, and it’s important.” Thus Franco, like most of the other men so accused: 1) denies the charges, and 2) commends the actresses for coming forward in order to state untruths damaging to his reputation.
At first this seems like a story we’ve seen over and over again. But if you can bear to look at the details, you find these accusations are rather different. The actresses involved are not primarily accusing Franco of harassing them in offices or in hotel rooms. They are primarily accusing him of sexually exploiting them in acting classes or on sound stages. They are complaining about activities that are actually or potentially job related.
On the one hand, complaining about sexual harassment for something that goes along with the job is rather silly. It seems to be simply a fact that if a woman wants to be an actress in Hollywood, she will be asked to do nude scenes. One could ask whether an aspiring actress is even serious about acting if she wouldn’t do nude scenes.
It’s not only novice actresses breaking into the business who must remove their clothing for acting parts. Well-established actresses must still do it. At the Oscar telecast in 2014, host Seth McFarlane sang a song called “We Saw Your Boobs” pointing out (and publicly shaming) the many women in the room who had appeared topless in movies.
The requirement to do nudity or sexual parts is something not shared by men and women equally. Women are far more likely to do nude scenes. According to a 2016 report by Mt. St. Mary’s University in Los Angeles, “Female characters continue to be sexualized to a greater degree than their male counterparts. Among the 100 top grossing films in 2014, women are nearly three times as likely as men to appear partially or fully nude in movies (26 percent and 9 percent, respectively).”
We may speculate that the situation for female actresses has become worse in recent years with more and more series being shown on the internet or cable subscription services such as HBO rather than on broadcast television. According to the movie-filtering service Vidangel, the ratio of nudity by women versus men in the popular show Game of Thrones is 6 to 1. A quick glance at the original series put out by Amazon and Netflix reveals that many (probably most) of them are rated TV-MA. Sometimes TV-MA is just for language, but many times means sex and nudity. In the old days, The Golden Girls talked constantly about sex, but at least Betty White kept her shirt on. Now, not so much.
It seems that the rule nowadays for directors is, if you can do it then you should do it. It’s instructive to compare the old Full House show with new Netflix-based Fuller House show. Full House, which was shown from 1987 to 1995 was generally suitable for the whole family. Sometimes the female characters wore questionable outfits but very few, perhaps none, truly objectionable. The new Fuller House show is one long truly objectionable mess. Where the old show sported the occasional tight dress, the new show features tight and low-cut tops like there was a fire sale at Victoria’s Secret.
In the current Hollywood milieu, could any actress have truly been surprised by James Franco asking them to do nude scenes? Could any aspiring acting student have been shocked that sex scenes were part of the curriculum when James Franco taught a class called “Sex Scenes” which, according to the LA Times, “taught students about the art of being intimate on camera”? No, the sexually exploitative requests could not have been completely unforeseen.
But the fact that women could reasonably expect to be sexually exploited doesn’t make it any better. It may be the case that actresses in Hollywood must accept that they will need to appear nude on camera, but that doesn’t make it less wrong. There’s nothing within the acting profession that makes it inherently sexualized, any more than being a secretary or truck driver is inherently sexual. Whatever connection that now exists has been put there by the people who run Hollywood; and not just by the Harvey Weinstein types, but by the rank and file executives.
The Vidangel video mentioned above includes audio from a director who was told by an executive that the project he was working on had to include full frontal nudity. The director and his interlocutor laugh about it, but that more than likely necessitated telling an actress that if she wanted the part she would have to take off her clothes.
The problem isn’t that Seth McFarlane sang a song that degraded so many famous women at the Oscars. The problem is the industry itself, which forced those women to do nude scenes in order to work.
The problem in Hollywood isn’t what Harvey Weinstein did in hotel rooms. It’s what people working for Harvey Weinstein did on sound sets. The problem, as is so often the case, isn’t some hidden conspiracy; the problem is right out in the open.
What’s done in Hollywood doesn’t stay in Hollywood. It goes out all over the country and all over the world. If people can be convinced to buy products based on thirty or sixty second advertising, its pretty clear that they can be convinced to view the world in a warped, hypersexualized way when that’s what they watch between the car commercials.
Hollywood hasn’t just sexually harassed actresses. It has sexually harassed the world.
The Hollywood executives who are tweeting #MeToo and #TimesUp really should be tweeting, #ImTheProblem.