Oscar nod for James Franco, after accusations of 'exploitative behaviour'? Timing will tell

Actor James Franco arriving for the gala presentation of The Disaster Artist at the AFI Film Festival in Los Angeles, California.
Actor James Franco arriving for the gala presentation of The Disaster Artist at the AFI Film Festival in Los Angeles, California.PHOTO: REUTERS

(NYTimes) - Can a man win an Oscar once his name is the first to come up in a Google search for "vagina guard"?

The fellow in question is James Franco, who this month won a Golden Globe and a Critics' Choice Award for his performance in The Disaster Artist. He was also the subject of a Los Angeles Times article last week in which five women accused him of "inappropriate or sexually exploitative behaviour". One of them said he had removed clear plastic shields from actresses' private parts while filming an orgy scene in 2015 for a yet-to-be released project.

Accusations against Franco began surfacing on Twitter days earlier, during the Golden Globes, where he wore a pin in support of Time's Up, the female-led anti-harassment initiative. Among the women raising the question of impropriety that night was actress Ally Sheedy, who posted and then deleted a few cryptic tweets that said, among other things, "Why was James Franco allowed in?"

The accusations followed a public incident in New York in 2014. That's when Franco, then 35, tried to arrange a hookup with a 17-year-old tourist via Instagram, and later admitted to having used bad judgment.

Last week, he addressed the Golden Globes tweets on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, saying, "I have no idea what I did to Ally Sheedy." He also said: "If I've done something wrong, I will fix it. I have to."

Then on Jan 11, The Los Angeles Times published its article, in which several women said Franco got peeved when they refused to remove their shirts during filming. Another woman, whom Franco had been seeing romantically, said that once, while they were sitting in a car, he had nudged her head down to encourage her to perform oral sex, and that "the power dynamic was really off". His lawyer told The Los Angeles Times that the claims "were not accurate".

But since the Los Angeles Times article came out, the actor has laid low, skipping the Critics' Choice Awards, where he was named best actor in a comedy.

Still, those in the Oscar tea leaf reading game have concluded that chances are pretty good that Franco's name will be on the list when Oscar nominees are revealed next week.

The window for nomination voting opened on Jan 5 and closed on Jan 12, just one day after the article ran. The acting nominations are decided by the actors' branch - at 1,218 members, the largest one in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences - and many had already submitted their ballots by the time the article appeared.

Interviewing some of those voters, Glenn Whipp of the Los Angeles Times found that several regretted casting ballots for Franco yet, per academy rules, couldn't take them back. Some in the actors' branch are also said to have met the accusations against Franco with little more than a shrug, and felt they were small potatoes - especially compared with the alleged misdeeds of, say, Harvey Weinstein, to name just one.

Franco's widely praised performance as real-life oddity Tommy Wiseau, the man behind the cult hit The Room, had also already earned a best actor nomination from SAG-AFTRA, the union behind the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

The awards projection site Gold Derby still has Franco squeaking in, in fifth place, among the likely best-actor Oscar nominees. With Gary Oldman (The Darkest Hour) and Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name) dominating the race, Franco was always a long shot to win. The latest allegations make his odds even longer, the academy being particularly sensitive to how it is perceived.

But still. Franco could easily be in the running, which would hand the Oscars host, Jimmy Kimmel, a ready-made joke if there ever was one, whether Franco shows or not.