James Franco’s Oscar-snub: have the Academy Awards shown their true colours?



James Franco broke the bank with his surprise hit The Disaster Artist. The film is based on the book which details the conception and production of The Room, labeled as one of the worst motion pictures ever made in the history of cinema. Franco stars as Tommy Wiseau, the enigmatic writer, director and producer. Paying tribute to what is arguably the most melodramatic love triangle in cinematic history, Franco soars in his performance as Wiseau. He nails just about everything in his performance: the accent, the physical appearance, the mannerisms, and the outlandish behaviour. So, it came as no surprise that The Disaster Artist was a critical success, winning Franco the Golden Globe Award for Best Performance in a Motion Picture.

Only days later, however, five women stepped forward and accused the acclaimed actor of having sexually exploited them while they were students at his Studio 4 or Playhouse West. What is peculiar is that these women’s accusations entered the spotlight just one day before Academy Award nomination ballots were due, with Franco a favourite for the Best Actor in a Leading Role category. Thus, the timing of the accusations raised eyebrows. If they are true, is it about justice, or humiliation? Is it really a campaign to expose the misogyny endemic in the filmmaking business, or is it an excuse to reduce the number of men who hold influential roles in film production? Well, the answer may be found in recent events that cast doubt on whether the Oscars are truly intent on espousing egalitarian values.

Let’s assume that Franco is indeed guilty of the allegations. The Academy voters will have made a moral stance and have helped to ensure that the Time’s Up initiative is being taken seriously. But, what about Gary Oldman’s nomination for his performance as Winston Churchill in Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour? Although a doubtlessly laudable performance, far surpassing that of the troubled Commissioner James Gordon in Christopher Nolan’s superbly fleshed-out version of Batman in The Dark Knight Trilogy, Oldman’s then wife Donya Fiorentino, made accusations in 2001 that he had had assaulted her with a telephone receiver in front of their children. Although he was not formally convicted, the decision to spurn Franco and nominate Oldman does not bode well for the Academy’s image. If it is the Oscar’s place to pass moral judgments on the industry’s members, then they are doing a bad job of it.

Natalie Portman’s hypocritical sabotage at the Golden Globes – a deserved Oscar winner for her mind-warping performance in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan – shook audiences when she went off-script during her presentation of the Best Director category, saying: ‘Here are the all-male nominees’. However, the Oscar-winning actress is not entitled to make such remarks. Portman, one of the more vociferous spearheads of the #MeToo movement, has her own production company Handsomecharlie Films which, to date, has only produced one picture, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which centres on a female character. Seeing as she is a woman in a position of power, Portman has  the ability and means to ameliorate the lack of female representation in leading roles. So, why has she not produced films starring A-list and lesser known actresses? Had she done that, her sabotage at the most recent Golden Globes may have been understood, at least in principle. However, this just sheds light on how hypocritical many of the actresses who claim to strive for female empowerment in the industry really are. Who knows how many more in the same position as Portman, who have won Oscars through films written, directed and produced by men, have their own production companies and have not made any Academy Award-worthy films? Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is an exception, but this is just one film in what could be a vast array of female-centric and female-produced films competing on the same level as films produced by men. In other words, in order for women with great filmmaking potential to be placed on the same pedestal as auteurs such as Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick, they to take advantage of their positions of power to promote women in directing and central acting roles.

Let us hope that more will follow in Gerwig’s footsteps, rather than just resort to craven remarks. Cinema is a form of art, and just like any form of art, well-thought, well-written, well-acted and emotionally-engaging films deserve the highest possible praise. As such, despite the controversy surrounding them, people like Franco, Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, should be remembered for their artful contributions. After all, Hollywood is not a court of law. While it is important that films are made which challenge the viewer’s stances on polemic social issues, it is important to draw a fine line between expressing opinions and making decisions that eschew due process and  may impact actors’ futures as has been the case with Kevin Spacey. What the Oscars have done is act in the heat of the moment, which ironically, is a distortion of the Weinstein effect’s message.

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