Two of James Franco’s former film students have filed a lawsuit against the 41-year-old actor/director, accusing him of engaging in sexually exploitative behavior.
The suit was filed Los Angeles County Superior Court on Thursday, according to the New York Times. The accusers, Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal, say Franco and his partners “engaged in widespread inappropriate and sexually charged behavior towards female students by sexualizing their power as a teacher and an employer by dangling the opportunity for roles in their projects.” The lawsuit names Franco, his business partner, and their production company Rabbit Bandini.
Franco opened a film and acting school called Studio 4 in 2014. Tither-Kaplan and Gall both attended the school’s Los Angeles branch and enrolled in additional master classes, including a course on filming sex scenes. The lawsuit says the class’ sex scenes were filmed so that Franco “could later review the material,” and that students “were denied the protections of nudity riders and other film-industry guidelines that govern how actors can be portrayed and treated in nude scenes,” according to the Times.
Franco’s alleged misconduct was first reported in a 2018 article in the Los Angeles Times, which included an account of Tither-Kaplan’s experiences on the set of Franco’s 2015 independent film The Long Home. In one particular incident, Tither-Kaplan said she and a handful of women were selected to participate in a scene in which Franco simulated performing oral sex on each of them. She said Franco, without their consent, removed the clear plastic guard that covered their vaginas and continued to simulate the sex act without protection.
In another case, Tither-Kaplan and her female co-stars were asked to appear nude in an unscripted scene in which they were to dance around Franco while wearing animal skulls. When one actress refused, Franco allegedly sent her home.
Franco’s Studio 4 school was closed in the fall of 2017. Tither-Kaplan and Gaal’s lawsuit seeks monetary damages as well as the return or destruction of any video recordings of the women. Additionally, the women are seeking class-action status so that other possible victims can participate in the suit.
This is not the first time Franco has been confronted with allegations of sexual misconduct. Following Franco’s Golden Globe win for The Disaster Artist in 2018, several actresses came forward with alleged stories of Franco’s past inappropriate behavior. What’s more, in 2014, news emerged that Franco had attempted to proposition a 17-year-old woman on Instagram. Franco admitted to the encounter at the time, saying, “In my position, not only do I have to go through the embarrassing rituals of meeting someone, but sometimes it gets published for the world.” The incident occurred in New York, where the age of consent is 17.
Franco previously addressed the allegations made against him during a 2018 interview on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, saying: “If there’s restitution to be made, I will make it. I’m here to listen and learn and change my perspective where it’s off.” However, according Tither-Kaplan, she has not been in contact with Franco for nearly two years and neither he nor his business partners have taken action “that shows me that these people know what they did is wrong and harmful and can’t been repeated.”
Update: In a statement in response to the lawsuit, Franco’s attorney Michael Plonsker said, “This is not the first time that these claims have been made and they have already been debunked. We have not had an opportunity to review the ill-informed Complaint in depth since it was leaked to the press before it was filed and our client has yet to even be served. James will not only fully defend himself, but will also seek damages from the plaintiffs and their attorneys for filing this scurrilous publicity seeking lawsuit.”