The Deuce has a lot to say about the male gaze and the commodification of womens bodies—but James Francos continued presence in the story (as two characters, no less) has complicated the discourse surrounding the HBO drama, which focuses on the porn industry in the 1970s. This past winter, six women accused Franco of sexual misconduct—allegations the actors attorney has denied on his behalf. When it was announced that Franco would return for the second season of The Deuce, co-creator David Simon said that no one involved in the show had any complaints about the actors behavior—a rationale that Francos co-star, Maggie Gyllenhaal, echoed during a thoughtful exchange with New Yorks David Marchese.
When asked to illuminate her thought process about Franco and his involvement in The Deuce, Gyllenhaal, who also produces the series, emphasized the importance of thinking through such matters carefully, leaving room for nuance.
“Simple black-and-white thinking or action is always going to be problematic,” Gyllenhaal said. “There are some situations that are easy: This person is a rapist and therefore needs to go to jail. Then there are the situations that are much more complicated. I was part of a group of intelligent, thoughtful people on The Deuce—David Simon and [co-creator] George Pelecanos and also Richard Plepler, who runs HBO—who were using everything we had in order to consider how to move forward.”
The question of how, exactly, to deal with alleged abusers has become one of the #MeToo and Times Up movements chief quandaries, as figures including Louis C.K. and Aziz Ansari mount comebacks of their own. (Last November, C.K. admitted to forcing women to watch him masturbate; Ansari said that despite an allegation that he attempted to pressure a photographer, physically and verbally, into having sex, he believed that all of the sexual activity between them was consensual.) During a conference call Tuesday, Times Up members discussed the issue of when accused celebrities should be allowed back in the public eye. As one member on the call put it, “The accused has to make amends with their survivor. But common understanding, expressing real change, understanding the systemic culture that these men have not just perpetrated but lived in and supported—that hasnt happened very often over this last year among people who have been accused. And the ones who start to do that are going to be the ones who rehabilitate themselves the quickest.”
During her interview, Gyllenhaal said that she and the shows other producers took the accusations against Franco—which included pressuring actresses into more nudity than they initially agreed to and, during a separate shoot, allegedly removing the plastic guards covering actresses vaginas during simulated oral sex—very seriously, learning as much about the accusations as they could.
“All of us felt that it was important to talk to the people who were on our crew and in our cast, and make sure they felt that theyd been treated with total respect and felt safe—everybody did,” Gyllenhaal said. “I think about our show in particular: its about misogyny; its about inequality in terms of gender in the entertainment business. Its about the subtleties of transactional sex. And I felt that it would have been a terrible shame to stop telling that story. I had so much more to say about all of these things by playing Candy, and I know that Emily [Meade], who plays Lori, and Dominique [Fishback], who plays Darlene, and Jamie [Neumann], who plays Dorothy, also had feminist interest in continuing this story.”
But as some critics, including V.F.s Sonia Saraiya, have pointed out, the decision to keep Franco does, in some ways, undermine some of the shows most deeply held messages about abuse of power. When asked if she could understand that line of thinking, Gyllenhaal admitted that she is probably not the most objective voice on the subject.
“Im not the right person to talk about that except to say that neither of Jamess characters on the show are heroes,” Gyllenhaal said. “I would say hes walking right into the eye of the storm—hes continuing the conversation with the work that hes doing. I dont think theres a way to do this show without consciously knowing that youre part of a larger conversation about exploitation and misogyny. Thats what I think. I cant speak for him [Franco]. I think everyones been respectful in terms of not asking me to do that, because thats not right either.”
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