James Franco Sued by Former Students Over Alleged Sexual Exploitation and Fraud

Two former students are suing James Franco for alleged sexual exploitation and fraud, accusing the actor and his partners of asking them to perform sexually exploitative auditions and film shoots for projects that never materialized or were never released. The lawsuit was filed on Thursday in Los Angeles County Superior court by Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal, reports The New York Times. They claim the auditions and filming were for a now-defunct program that only existed for Franco and his collaborators to take advantage of a group of young female performers.

In the lawsuit, Tither-Kaplan and Gaal accused Franco and his partners of engaging "in widespread inappropriate and sexually charged behavior towards female students by sexualizing their power as a teacher and an employer by dangling the opportunity for roles in their projects."

The actions "led to an environment of harassment and sexual exploitation both in and out of the class," according to the lawsuit.

The program was part of an acting and film school Franco opened in 2014 with Vince Jolivette in 2014. The school had branches in Los Angeles and New York. Franco, Jolivette and Rabbit Bandini Productions general manager Jay Davis are listed as defendants.

Franco and Jolivette have not commented on the lawsuit yet. The Times reached out to Rabbit Bandini, but there was no answer at the phone number listed for the company.

The two women said they paid $300 a month in tuition at Studio 4's Los Angeles branch. They were also offered "master classes" that could cost up to $2,000 each, including a $750 sex scenes class, according to the lawsuit. They claim the class involved their sex scene auditions being filmed so Franco could review them and were told to sign away rights to the recordings. According to the lawsuit, the traditional film industry guidelines for nude scenes were ignored for these recordings.

The class "often young and inexperienced females" who "were routinely pressured to engage in simulated sex acts that went far beyond the standards in the industry."

Gaal recorded an audition for the sex scenes class and did a callback, but she was not accepted after openly expressing her displeasure with the class, the lawsuit claimed. Tither-Kaplan said she took the class and got a role in Franco's independent movies, but some are unreleased. In one film, she performed in an orgy scene where Frano removed a plastic guard from actresses' vaginas while simulating oral sex, the lawsuit claims.

Studio 4 was open until fall 2017. Gaal and Tither-Kaplan are seeing damages and the return or destruction of any video recordings made while students there. They are also seeking class-action status so other women who claim to have similar stories can join the lawsuit.

Tither-Kaplan was one of the women who criticized Franco for wearing a "Time's Up" button at the 2018 Golden Globes, just days before The Los Angeles Times published a report on Franco's alleged inappropriate and abusive behavior with women.

“I can't live if there's restitution to be made. If I've done something wrong, I will fix it. I have to. I don't know what else to do,” Franco said in a January interview with Stephen Colbert. “As far as the bigger issue of how we do it, I really don't have the answers. I think the point of this whole thing is that we listen. I'm here to listen and learn and change my perspective where it's off. I'm completely willing and want to.”

Tither-Kaplan has not spoken with Franco in two years and said she did not know Gaal while at Studio 4. She told the Times she believes Franco has not changed his behavior since she came forward in 2018.

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“I can’t sleep at night knowing that my coming forward, originally, did not do the work that I wanted it to do yet,” Tither-Kaplan told the Times. “There still has been no action, publicly, that shows me that these people know what they did is wrong and harmful and can’t be repeated.”

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