He went to the first Women's March. He wore a Time's Up pin to the Golden Globes. And when he won an award that night for Best Lead Actor, Ally Sheedy—who worked with him in an off-Broadway production in 2014—cryptically voiced her objections on Twitter. Shortly afterward, five women came forward to accuse him of sexual misconduct and on-set exploitation. Scarlett Johansson announced from the stage of the 2018 Women's March that she "wanted [her] pin back." Now, Busy Philipps, in her new memoir, has described the time Franco physically assaulted her on the set of Freaks and Geeks. All of which begs the question: how many passes is James Franco going to get?
Despite all that happened earlier in the year, Franco's presence on HBO's The Deuce, as it headed into its second season in September, remained unaffected. In the 1970s-set show, he plays twin brothers hustling their way through a life of bars, gambling and organized crime, on the fringes of the burgeoning porn industry in New York City. Franco is also an executive producer on the show.
HBO justified the move, saying in a statement: “We have verified that no complaints about Mr. Franco have come in on The Deuce production.” David Simon, the show's co-creator, agreed. "We have no complainant or complaint or any awareness of any incident of concern involving Mr. Franco. Nor has HBO been approached with any complaint.”
"At the time that the accusations against James came out in the LA Times, we read them all, we took them very seriously. We spoke to every woman on the crew and in the cast to find out ... what their experience of working with James was and everyone said that they had been totally respected by him ... [The Deuce is] about misogyny. It’s about transactional sex. It’s about inequality in the entertainment business. You couldn’t be more at the center of that conversation than The Deuce ... I feel like it would've been the wrong consequence to those accusations to shut our show down."
Gyllenhaal is right. Shutting down The Deuce after one (brilliant) season because of one man's bad behavior would indeed be counter-productive. But so is keeping Franco on the team. The most powerful messages in the series are undercut by his presence, especially given that most of the accusations leveled at him concerned violations on film sets, including the removal of plastic vaginal guards without the consent of the actresses wearing them (Franco's attorney denied this), and pressuring up-and-coming actresses to do topless and nude scenes.