UPDATED with statement from Franco’s attorney: A new class-action lawsuit alleges that James Franco and other defandants “committed egregious wrongs to hundreds of student actors.” The complaint accuses them of sexual harassment, sex discrimination, fraud and multiple other violations regarding their now-shuttered acting and film school .
In a 33-page suit filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court (read it here), lead plaintiffs Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal allege that Franco, actor-producer Vince Jolivette and the latter’s cousin Jay Davis — “through the use of various RabbitBandini production companies and the RabbitBandini Studio 4 acting and film school — opted to sexualize their power and fame by dangling the opportunity to aspiring actors of employment in film and television in exchange for explicit nudity, sex and as Franco put it, the ‘pushing of boundaries.'”
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Tither-Kaplan and Gaal enrolled in 2014 at the Studio 4 acting school, for which they paid $300 in monthly tuition, the suit says.
Their complaint opens with a quote: “If I have done something wrong, I will fix it. I have to.” According to the suit, “Franco made this promise in response to a public outcry from women when his sexually hostile, predatory and exploitative history came to light after he wore a Time’s Up pin to the 2018 Golden Globes Awards Ceremony. But the truth is that James Franco and the other Defendants have committed egregious wrongs to hundreds of student actors and have done nothing to fix these wrongs.”
Franco’s attorney, Michael Plonsker, issued a statement late Thursday: “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.”
Here’s more from the suit:
“Franco’s targets were even duped to pay for their exploitation through a fraudulent ‘acting school’ designed to benefit Franco and his production companies wherein employment opportunities for women supposedly increased when they agreed to overt sexual acts, nudity and performing in sex scenes — often in an orgy type setting.
“Moreover, Defendants forced Plaintiffs and all student-talent to sign over their rights to explicit nude and sex scene auditions and filming. Plaintiffs were told that Franco wanted to personally review each of the auditions and scenes himself only to learn this explicit footage would be stored, maintained and used by Defendants at their will.
“While James Franco touted that one difference between Studio 4 and other acting schools was its ability to funnel promising talent into his projects, the reality was that he was looking to create a pipeline of young women who were subjected to his personal and professional sexual exploitation in the name of education.
“Defendants’ scheme, like many, started slow, first encouraging female student actors to appear topless, then perform in sex scenes, then orgies and gratuitous full nudity for no other reason thab Defendants could make them do it.
“And while men and women participated in the Studio 4 program, the majority of actual roles in legitimate productions typically went to non-students or young, attractive women who acquiesced to the extreme requests of Defendants.”
The school closed in late 2017 as allegations of sexual misconduct against Franco began to surface and amid the burgeoning #MeToo movement. Weeks later, the Los Angeles Times ran an exposé in which five women accused him of “sexually inappropriate and explotative behavior.”
Attorneys Dan Stormer and Tanya Sukhija-Cohen of Hadsell Stormer Renick & Dai LLP in Pasadena are representing the class in the case. Demanding a jury trial, it seeks unspecified damages, an apology, the return of “all recordings, video or otherwise, in the possession of Defendants” and for the defendants to undergo sexual harassment and sensitivity training.