“Whatever,” writer Jessica Valenti tweeted moments after James Franco won the Golden Globe award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.
“I still remember James Franco trying to pick up a teenager on Instagram.”
Her tweet promptly went viral.
The 39-year-old actor won the award for his role as Tommy Wiseau in The Disaster Artist and has been a major Hollywood star since his career began more than two decades ago.
At the 75th Golden Globes, however, Franco was branded a hypocrite.
In a black suit (which, sure, isn’t entirely radical) Franco pledged allegiance to the #MeToo movement in Hollywood, and on his left lapel he wore a pin that said: “Time’s Up”.
Those two words were the war cry chanted on the red carpet and on stage in Los Angeles, a vow to end the practice of sexual misconduct and the subsequent silence that works to protect it.
But many could not reconcile the demonstration taking place on the world stage with Franco’s past behaviour.
On Twitter and Facebook posts circulated about Franco’s relationships with “underage girls” with many referring to him as a “paedophile”.
Tracey Spicer joins Holly Wainwright and Rachel Corbett on Mamamia Out Loud to discuss the year that was #MeToo on Mamamia Out Loud…
They presumably referred to an incident back in 2014, when a 17-year-old girl took a selfie with Franco, then 35, outside his Broadway show Of Mice and Men.
He asked her to tag him on Instagram, and later sent her a direct message, asking her age and if she had a boyfriend.
When he discovered she was 17, he asked if she would like to meet him at a hotel room.
No feature of this exchange is against the law.
Perhaps we can label it ‘creepy’. Perhaps a 35-year-old Hollywood star, should not be coming on to a young woman who has not yet finished high school.
Hey, remember when James Franco was creeping in the instagram dms of underage teenage girls and shit? Anyway he’s a Golden Globe winner this year -we’re just glad that everyone in that room is comfortable enough to crack jokes about predators tho ????
— Nerdy POC (@nerdypoc) January 8, 2018
But when we start to lump stories like this in with sexual harassment allegations, we start to lose our footing. We undermine the movement itself.
The woman he messaged was not a minor. In New York, the state Franco was in at the time, 17 is the legal age. That’s a fact. Franco – to our knowledge at least – is not a paedophile.
“I’m embarrassed,” Franco said at the time. “I used bad judgement. I learned my lesson.”
But it was not just the 2014 incident that everyone was talking about following Franco’s Golden Globes win.
Actor Ally Sheedy, best known for her role in The Breakfast Club, tweeted on her unverified page: “Why is a man hosting? Why is James Franco allowed in. Said too much.”
The actor, who worked with Franco in the play The Long Shrift, later added: “James Franco just won. Please never ever ask me why I left the film/TV business.”
Her series of tweets have now been deleted.
Although heavily implied, within these statements is no direct allegation of sexual misconduct.
Sheedy's reluctance to state anything specific is entirely understandable. There is the fear of defamation charges. Of having people ruin your career. Of being shamed and trolled and hunted online, like so many women have been.
But we, as the broader public, must be very careful.
In part, to protect those who might be innocent. But overwhelmingly, to protect the victims themselves.
If we take bits and pieces, hearsay and insinuation, and choose to run with it, we are discrediting the movement as a whole.
Even when, as is the case with Franco, the accusations get worse.
A woman named Violet Paley tweeted on Monday, "James Franco. Remember the time you pushed my head down in a car towards your exposed penis?"
An actor named Sarah Tither-Kaplan also tweeted, "Hey James Franco, nice #timesup pin at the #GoldenGlobes, remember a few weeks ago when you told me the full nudity you had me do in two of your movies for $100/day wasn't exploitative because I signed a contract to do it? Times up on that!"
Cute #TIMESUP pin James Franco. Remember the time you pushed my head down in a car towards your exposed penis & that other time you told my friend to come to your hotel when she was 17? After you had already been caught doing that to a different 17 year old?
— Violet Paley (@VioletPaley) January 8, 2018
These women - statistics firmly tell us - are likely not lying.
And to do them justice, we need to slow down.
Australian journalists Tracey Spicer and Kate McClymont have been sent thousands of accusations regarding sexual misconduct in the workplace. In November 2017, there was a list of no less than 65 alleged perpetrators.
The list must be the beginning. Not the end.
"You need witnesses, evidence, you have to make sure your case is so water tight," Spicer said on Mamamia Out Loud.
"We're going to do this properly... This isn't about a head on the spike."
In the age of social media, we often move too fast, never measuring and cutting and cutting and cutting, hacking people to pieces in the process.
And the stakes are far too high. For men who could be innocent, and might have their careers, even lives, entirely ruined. But also for victims, who deserve to have their claims properly investigated, outside the forum of Twitter.
We do not know if James Franco is guilty of sexual harassment. Perhaps Hollywood, as was the case with Weinstein, knows something we don't.
And if they do, then Franco's pin says it all.