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Former acting students accuse James Franco of sexual exploitation

Photo: Kevin Mazur (Getty Images)

[Note: This article contains descriptions of sexually exploitative behavior.]

The New York Times published a report today outlining allegations from two former students of James Franco’s now-shuttered acting school, Studio 4, accusing Franco and his partners of engaging in sexually exploitative behavior toward their female students. Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal are both suing Franco and partner Vince Jolivette for, in the words of the Times, using their schools as “little more than a scheme to provide him and his male collaborators with a pool of young female performers that they could take advantage of.” The pair also allege that Franco and Jolivette “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.”

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Students at Studio 4 paid $300 a month for classes as part of a two-year program, with promises that Franco would cast various film projects for his and Jolivette’s production company Rabbit Bandini through the school’s acting roster. Per the class action suit, said auditions were actually opened to non-students equally, and those students who were cast in films (including Franco productions like The Disaster Artist) were those most willing to accede to his demands to “push boundaries,” often in regards to sexual material.

Of special note is a “master class” on sex scenes that cost $750 (in addition to regular tuition), and was reportedly hinted to be a “stepping stone” to auditioning for Franco’s various independent films. Auditioning for the class often allegedly involved performing simulated sex acts, all of which were videotaped, then kept on file for Franco to review at a later date. (Performers also signed away their rights to the materials on the tapes.) Tither-Kaplan, who attended the class, says that in at least one instance, Franco removed protective garments from students before simulating oral sex on them as part of an orgy scene. The pair alleged that the class preyed upon “often young and inexperienced females” who “were routinely pressured to engage in simulated sex acts that went far beyond the standards in the industry.”

Franco has faced similar accusations before. In 2014, he admitted to an attempt to initiate sexual contact with a 17-year-old on Instagram, and in 2018, he faced accusations from five women—including Tither-Kaplan—of sexually inappropriate behavior. Several of those women were also students, some from his time teaching at Hollywood’s Playhouse West; at the time, one recounted a story in which she and several other women were recruited for one of Franco’s projects that involved her standing around in lingerie at a strip club, then facing hostility from the actor after none of the women involved agreed to a sudden request to go topless. Franco drew attention to himself during that same period by wearing a Times Up pin at the Golden Globes, drawing increased anger from his accusers.

Neither Franco or Jolivette have so far responded to this new legal action against them. You can read the full text of the class action complaint over at Variety.

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