We haven’t heard much about James Franco in the three years since he was accused of sexual misconduct by former students who attended his now-defunct acting school. At the time (and before the particulars of his alleged transgressions were made public), Franco denied the allegations, while also pledging to take responsibility for screw-ups. "I can't live if there's restitution to be made," he said during an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. and pledged to take responsibility for his screw-ups. "I will make it. So, if I've done something wrong, I will fix it. I have to."
The following year, actresses Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal filed a class-action lawsuit against the now 42-year-old filmmaker — which referenced his Late Show comments — alleging he intimidated them into exploitative sexual situations under the guise of mentorship. Now, it appears they've succeeded in negotiating a monetary mea culpa from Franco. Over the weekend, the Associated Press (AP) reported that a tentative settlement has been reached, according to court documents filed on February 11. Tither-Kaplan and Gaal agreed to drop their claims, but their allegations of sexual exploitation were dismissed without prejudice, which means they can be re-filed down the line. The financial terms of the settlement have not yet been finalized, per The Hollywood Reporter.
Franco operated his film school, Studio 4, from 2014 to 2017. In their lawsuit, Tither-Kaplan and Gaal called it a scheme to "create a steady stream of young women to objectify and exploit" and a “fraudulent institution” which would “lure students in by providing them false hopes of acquiring job opportunities with Franco's productions."
According to the AP, the lawsuit accused Franco of coercing students into performing “orgy type” sex scenes during a master class on onscreen intimacy. Speaking with the Los Angeles Times in 2018, Tither-Kaplan alleged that, among other transgressions, Franco removed protective guards from actresses’ vaginas while simulating oral sex. Two other female students told the Times that Franco became angry when women refused to go topless.
Five of Franco's former students came forward with their claims after Franco won a 2018 Golden Globe for The Disaster Artist. The actor-director wore a Time’s Up pin on his lapel while accepting his statuette on stage, which Tither-Kaplan told the Los Angeles Times “was like a slap in my face.”
In hindsight, now that intimacy coordinators are increasingly viewed as essential personnel on film sets, Franco teaching a master class about onscreen orgies is rife with red flags. Tither-Kaplan told NPR in 2019 that she thought the seminar would teach her how to "maneuver in sex scenes professionally as an actor," but it "did not do that at all." She said Franco never talked about industry standards like "nudity riders, the detail required in them, the right to counsel with the director about nude scenes, the custom to choreograph nude scenes ahead of time to negotiate them with the cast and the director — I knew none of that throughout that class."
But thanks to the women like Tither-Kaplan and Gaal, who came forward to hold a powerful figure accountable, other actresses hopefully won't be subjected to the same exploitative conditions.