On Tuesday night, Stephen Colbert took James Franco to task, confronting the actor about the allegations of sexual misconduct against him.
Franco raised eyebrows across the Internet on Sunday night when he wore a Time’s Up pin to the Golden Globes, where he won an award for his role in “The Disaster Artist.” Actress Ally Sheedy tweeted (and then deleted) a vague accusation against Franco. The two worked together on the off-Broadway play “The Long Shrift.” Others on Twitter made mention of the 35-year-old actor’s meet-up with a 17-year-old girl, something that Franco himself has admitted to.
To Franco’s credit, the actor didn’t completely fumble his answer. “In my life, I pride myself on taking responsibility for things that I’ve done,” he said. “I do it whenever I know there is something wrong or needs to be changed, [and] I make it a point to do it.”
He then addressed a tweet from actress Violet Paley, where she accused Franco of forcing her to perform oral sex on him. (Paley admits to being in a consensual relationship with Franco at the time, but says the specific incident was non-consensual.) Franco claimed the accusation was “not accurate” but did say that he “completely support[s] people coming out and having a voice because they didn’t have a voice for so long.”
Men shouldn’t get a cookie for admitting when they’ve behaved badly. (They can start by not behaving badly in the first place.) We shouldn’t hold Franco up as some feminist icon because he is one of the few men who says he is willing to own up to their mistakes.
But Franco did offer up a fairly decent response. He addressed allegations, and while he denied their validity, he wholeheartedly said that survivors should have a platform to speak their truth. “I don’t want to shut them down in any way,” he told Colbert. “I think that’s a good thing and that’s important.”
That hasn’t been the normal response from men accused. (Take, for example, Dustin Hoffman, who said that there was “no point” in the woman who accused him of assault bringing the incident up after 40 years.)
Colbert himself is also deserving of some kudos for actually addressing the rumors point-blank. Late night hosts are doing a fairly good job in addressing men accused of sexual assault and harassment. Unlike other talking heads, men like Colbert and John Oliver (who confronted Hoffman) are sitting face-to-face with these men and asking them the tough questions. They refuse to back down when the men squirm. This is important. These late night hosts are stepping up as male allies.
We still have a long way to go, though. It would have been amazing for Franco to use his red carpet appearance or acceptance speech to speak up about the Time’s Up initiative — instead of, you know, chest-checking Tommy Wiseau away from the microphone. During his interview, Colbert asked Franco the question of how to handle these accusations when they come out. And to be blunt, there might not be a clear-cut answer to that question. Franco’s response was that “if I’ve done something wrong, I will fix it.”
That points directly to the larger issue at hand. So much of the Time’s Up and the #MeToo movement involves the discussion of uncomfortable gray areas that exist between men in power and women — situations when men behave badly and women are uncomfortable, but they don’t speak up.
Because society has given men the okay to behave badly — think “locker room talk” and “boys will be boys” —men operating in these gray areas don’t even know they’re doing anything wrong. Women are socialized to keep quiet, so they swallow the discomfort. The mammoth issue of the #MeToo movement and Time’s Up is this: How as a culture do we unlearn these behaviors? How do we show men that what they see as normal behavior is actually sometimes bad? How do we empower women to speak up when they’re ready?
Franco, or any man accused of misconduct, is just one part of the conversation. If late night hosts and male allies really want to affect change in situations like these, they’ve got to start giving platforms to women — those who accuse, and those who are leading the charge to change the status quo. (And not just the famous ones.)
The women on the Globes red carpet took the time to educate themselves on the issues behind the Time’s Up initiative. Most of the men put on pins and kept their mouths shut. Women are the ones who are pushing this conversation forward, and are the ones we should look to when it comes to the task of actually fixing things.