In the wake of allegations from five women of sexual improprieties by James Franco, the actor’s alma mater, Palo Alto High School, has whitewashed a mural he created at its student center.
In a January 11 report in the Los Angeles Times, five of Franco’s former film students accused the actor of pressuring them to appear naked on camera, and of removing plastic guards protecting actress’s vaginas during simulated sex scenes. (Franco has denied the allegations.) In light of the report, principal Kim Diorio has decided to remove the painting, according to the Mercury News.
Franco graduated from Palo Alto in 1996 and has made a point of returning in the two decades since. A multi-hyphenate who has become a determined visual artist in recent years, Franco created the painting in 2014, during a visit to the school at the opening of its Media Arts Center, in which he spoke and debuted an experimental film.
The artwork was based on old photographs from the 1993 edition of the high school’s yearbook, the Madrono.
“As time goes by, at least for me, my high school years became this weird mythical place,” said Franco of the project at the time to the Voice, calling the project “a way to express the otherworldly, odd, fantastic quality those years encapsulate in my memory” in his artist statement. He also painted 10 small canvases inspired by the yearbook which are still hanging at the media center. The teachers there will have the final decision about whether to remove those works as well.
“I made the decision we’ll take down the mural on the student center because I think that’s the one that’s most visible to the outside community,” school principal Kimberly Diorio told the school paper, the Paly Voice, noting that the works were originally considered temporary installations. “Nothing was intended to be permanent. Even his artwork is still considered to be ‘on loan’ to us.”
Indeed, the recently whitewashed painting was one of two works painted by Franco with the assistance of his private design team and the school’s AP art students in 2014. The first was replaced with student artwork in February 2016.
Diorio’s prompt action appears to have divided the school community. “Not many movie stars come back to their high school to do things like this, and we disrespected him like that? That’s ridiculous,” Peter Gold, a senior at the school told a local NBC affiliate.
“I support the principal and what she did. She pretty much had to take down the mural because she was responding to the community, which I think is really important,” countered Esther Wojcicki, a journalism teacher who had Franco as a student. “But I think that he has not been given an opportunity to defend himself.”
In 2014, the Voice published a photograph of Wojcicki and Franco taking a selfie, and the actor said that he counted her as one of his most important high school mentors, saying “Woj is a big influence.”
“I hope the allegations against Mr. Franco are proven to be false,” admitted Diorio to the Campanile, another student publication. “If that’s the case, I will personally apologize to him if he feels like we overreacted.”
Franco, who recently won a Golden Globe for his role in The Disaster Artist, which he also produced and directed, was removed from the cover of the current issue of Vanity Fair, shot by Annie Leibovitz. He was originally slated to appear alongside fellow stars Oprah Winfrey, Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, and Tom Hanks, as well as the magazine’s outgoing editor, Graydon Carter.
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