In his interview for The Sunday Times, comedian and filmmaker Seth Rogen was asked to reflect on his previously shared support of James Franco, Rogen’s longtime collaborator. The actor stated that he does not intend to work with Franco again and appears to not sustain the same friendly relationship with him. The outspoken stance that Rogen took in that interview quickly made headlines as it became one of the rare occurrences of a male Hollywood celebrity openly denouncing his old friend and creative partner who was accused of sexual assault.
It took a while for Rogen to get to that point though. Back in 2014, his monologue on SNL included Franco’s cameo and a joke referencing the latter’s scandal surrounding him propositioning a 17-year-old girl on Instagram after learning the child’s age. Franco was 35 years old at the time and still a friend of Rogen. The two went on to work on several more movies.
The Me Too era came after and its domino effect included five women stepping forward and accusing Franco of sexually exploitative and inappropriate behavior. Some of the most disturbing accusations made against him in 2018 include Franco removing protective plastic guards from his costar’s vaginas during oral sex scenes. Franco, in a manner similar to other male celebrities whose predatory behavior was brought to the public’s attention, respectfully denied the allegations. “The things that I heard that were on Twitter are not accurate. But I completely support people coming out and being able to have a voice because they didn’t have a voice for so long,” Franco went with a classic on Stephen Colbert’s late night show.
Shortly after the accusations were made public, Rogen was asked in an interview whether he would continue working with Franco to which the comedian replied affirmatively and stated that both his gender and friendship with Franco precludes him from discussing the accusations. At the time, Rogen seemed rather at a loss at what he should and should not say and preferred to steer clear of the topic. His response at the time fit into the all too familiar culture of toxic masculinity that encourages men to see each other in two ways, how they behave with other men and how they behave with women. Too often, the latter was painted as a completely separate matter from the former as men are desensitized to the misogynistic actions of their friends and peers.
Denial and distancing still work for most men (and women) in the Hollywood industry today whenever a scandal breaks out about their colleagues. On April 7, Charlyne Yi, who starred in The Disaster Artist with Franco while Rogen produced the film, posted on her Instagram accusing Rogen of being Franco’s enabler.
“What I can say is that I despise abuse and harassment and I would never cover or conceal the actions of someone doing it, or knowingly put someone in a situation where they were around someone like that,” Rogen responded to the Times interviewer bringing up Yi’s post. “I do look back at a joke I made on Saturday Night Live in 2014 and I very much regret making that joke. It was a terrible joke, honestly. And I also look back to that interview in 2018 where I comment that I would keep working with James, and the truth is that I have not and I do not plan to right now.”
It is impossible for us to know whether Rogen was ever aware of Franco’s inappropriate and exploitative behavior.
However, even if we do suspend our disbelief, Yi does bring up a very good point that it is not enough for men to simply stay silent and take the easy way out. When women and victims of sexual assault are the only ones speaking out, while (powerful) men remain silent, it creates more opportunities for a productive conversation to be discredited and labeled as a “witch hunt.” Rogen’s approach to the matter has changed over the years from poking fun at his friend to an uncomfortable avoidance to a more clear stance against sexism and misogyny. This may be a bare minimum level of support but it is also necessary solidarity that could propel the movement forward.
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