James Franco Accused Of ‘Sexual Exploitation’ In New Lawsuit Brought By Former Acting Students

Actor James Franco attends the 24th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California.
Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty Images

James Franco is being accused by several women who say that the actor subjected them to sexual exploitation during film shoots and at auditions. According to a bombshell report from The New York Times, Franco was sued by multiple women who say that he and others at his Studio 4 acting school engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior.

The lawsuit alleges that 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.”

Sarah Tither-Haplan and Toni Gaal say that Franco’s actions “led to an environment of harassment and sexual exploitation both in and out of the class.”

Franco started his film and acting studio in 2014 with branches in Los Angeles and New York. His partner, Vince Jolivette; their production company, Rabbit Bandini; and its general manager, Jay Davis, are all named in the suit. Classes cost about $300 a month, with master classes costing up to $2,000 additional. One master class focused on sex scenes cost $750.

The women say that they joined the school in 2014 and were promised the chance to audition for films produced and directed by Franco. But during the classes and auditions, they say that they were pushed beyond what felt comfortable for them, including doing scenes that they felt were exploitative. They claim they “were routinely pressured to engage in simulated sex acts that went far beyond the standards in the industry.”

Gaal specifies that she participated in a sex scene in an audition for the master class but told the class leaders that she was uncomfortable and wasn’t accepted into the class. Tither-Kaplan, on the other hand, says that she took the class but was asked to appear nude or in sex scenes that made her uncomfortable. At one point, she says, Franco removed plastic guards that covered her genitals and simulated oral sex on the women in the class.

It’s not the first time Franco has faced accusations about inappropriate interaction with female colleagues. In 2018, he was accused of sexually abusive and inappropriate behavior. While the Deuce actor denied the accusations at the time, he also expressed solidarity with women calling out men for their alleged misbehavior as a part of the Time’s Up movement.

“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,” Franco said at the time.

The school closed in 2017 and the women are seeking to have the recordings made during the classes destroyed, along with monatery compensation for their experiences.

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It has been a rough week for the actor as Franco’s most recent film, Zeroville, which stars Megan Fox, has been in the news for bombing at the box office. The film garnered only $9,000 opening night, according to NME.