On the same morning James Franco was stiffed by the Academy Awards, almost certainly over allegations of sexual misconduct, a man once accused of hitting his wife in the face with a telephone receiver was nominated for an Oscar for best actor, for which he was quickly reckoned the prohibitive favorite. If you want to believe the depth and sincerity of Hollywood’s commitment to #MeToo and #TimesUp, a question you have to ask yourself is this: Why was James Franco snubbed but not Gary Oldman?
Or, more broadly, why are some famous men experiencing career ramifications as a result of the #MeToo movement while others are not?
Franco, who won best actor awards at both the Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards this month, seemed like a front-runner in this year’s Oscars race for his performance as Tommy Wiseau in “The Disaster Artist.”
But on Jan. 11, Franco’s alleged history became a part of his awards season narrative. In a report published by the Los Angeles Times, five women came forward with allegations that Franco had been a sexual tyrant while working with them as an acting teacher and mentor.
Franco has disputed these claims and others, but his Oscar snub seemed like a sign of a new age of accountability, when professional honors are withheld on the basis of allegations of misconduct.
Well, some honors. Occasionally withheld. And maybe only on the basis of certain kinds of misconduct.
Consider Gary Oldman, who was nominated for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour.” In 2001, Oldman’s then wife, Donya Fiorentino, filed papers in L.A. Superior Court alleging that Oldman had assaulted her with a telephone. Per the New York Daily News, she wrote:
As I picked up the phone to call the police, Gary put his hand on my neck and squeezed. I backed away, with the phone receiver in my hand. I tried to dial 911. Gary grabbed the phone receiver from my hand, and hit me in the face with the telephone receiver three or four times. Both of the children were crying.
Oldman denied the allegations, saying at the time that they were “replete with lies, innuendos and half-truths.” Police investigated the claims. No charges were ever filed.
Or consider Kobe Bryant, who secured an Oscar nomination for a short film called “Dear Basketball.” In 2003, Bryant was accused of raping an employee at a hotel in Edwards, Colorado. In the runup to the criminal trial, the woman, 19 years old, was made to walk the Sex Crime Accuser Stations of the Cross. The case was dropped, but the woman sued Bryant. They eventually settled out of court, and Bryant apologized to the accuser without admitting guilt.
Or consider Kirk Douglas, who earlier this month got the grand-old-lion treatment at the Golden Globes, when he introduced the nominees for best screenplay. Douglas is long rumored to have raped Natalie Wood when she was 16 years old.
How do we reconcile the approbation these men have received with the Academy turning its back on Franco? Is it simply a matter of paying your dues? Oldman and Douglas were famous long before they were accused of any sort of transgression against women. Has Franco simply not garnered enough respect or clout in the industry for us to turn a blind eye to the allegations?
Is it reputation? Is Franco’s alleged conduct held to be more offensive because of his self-branding as a sort of sexual maverick? Does Oldman, in a strange way, benefit from the expectations created by his illiberal politics, which will never put him in the position of being a hypocrite on the subject of gender?
Or is it just a question of timing? The fresher the allegations, the more likely we are to make an example of the alleged miscreant. Have men like Oldman or Johnny Depp or Casey Affleck, men who were accused of things long before #TimesUp, been “grandfathered” in, as it were? It seems reasonable to think that Oldman, had he found himself in the midst of a fresh round of allegations this awards season, might have also been snubbed.
If time were truly up, these questions would be irrelevant. It isn’t, and they’re not, and right-wing commentators want to see the asymmetries in Hollywood’s response as evidence of a disqualifying hypocrisy. But the larger folly is in thinking Hollywood could ever be anything but short-memoried, selective and situational in its moral judgments when the star-making and -breaking machinery around it — the media and the courts, among other institutions — operate in the same way.
Gary Oldman is an Oscars favorite because whatever happened in 2001 left no mark on his record, legal or otherwise. Hollywood wasn’t going to make an example of someone whose example was scarcely even known.
Kobe Bryant got an Oscar nomination because the dark parts of his past had long ago been boxed out of the public narrative about him. Hollywood wasn’t going to cut against a consensus about Kobe it had no role in creating.
There are many Francos and many Oldmans across the country. They are not all glamorous movie star actors, but they are all men who have used their power and professional reputations as currency for getting away with “it,” however heinous or relatively harmless “it” may be. These Francos and Oldmans are tenured professors, CEOs, restaurant owners, construction site supervisors, retail store managers. And like Franco and like Oldman, these men have faced consequences for their actions arbitrarily, unpredictably, and with varying degrees of severity.
Maybe “Why Franco and not Oldman?” is the wrong question. Maybe asking Hollywood alone to smooth out these contradictions, to adjudicate solely by way of an awards ballot the cases that neither the courts nor the media were eager to take on in the first place, is a pointless endeavor.
Maybe a better question is whether Hollywood is really snubbing Franco at all. As of Jan. 18, he has 14 movie projects in various stages of development, films that he is starring in, producing, directing. Losing an Oscar is one thing. Losing a lucrative career in Hollywood is quite another.