It's been three months since the #MeToo movement took shape, and the current landscape is more confusing than ever. After years of standing on the sidelines, men in Hollywood and beyond are (rightfully) being forced to acknowledge the deeply rooted sexism that exists in our country, and proven abusers are being boycotted and fired. But there's one category of people we're not quite sure what to do with: the men who've been accused. Should those facing not-yet-proven allegations saddle up and face the public? Or quietly bow out of social engagements and resign themselves to lives outside of the spotlight?
James Franco and Ryan Seacrest are the latest prominent figures to make headlines for sexual misconduct, the latter of whom was exposed earlier this week when his former personal stylist, Suzie Hardy, came forward with claims that Seacrest subjected her to years of maltreatment, including groping and slapping her while in his underwear. (Seacrest denies the allegations, and E! has released a statement saying that its investigation found no evidence against him.)
The jury is still out on whether either one is guilty—so what, in the meantime, should people demand of them? As people make up their minds, there's a hidden hand at play. Whole offices are devoted rehabilitating the images of men who've fallen from grace, and their damage control playbook is as subtle as it is wide-ranging. In the wake of a poorly behaved celebrity's scandal, everything from the the events they attend to the clothing they wear is likely under the advisement of PR crisis management experts. We consulted one, who's worked with celebrities facing public scrutiny, about how she would advise Franco if he were her client—and what we can learn about him from the course he chooses.
VIDEO: James Franco Denies Sexual Harassment Allegations
"Sometimes, you have a crisis situation that you cannot communicate your way out of and there's nothing anyone can do to help you—they can lessen the blow, but it's going to be bad regardless," the source told InStyle anonymously. "Franco is in a space where there is a bit of gray area. As far as I'm aware, the allegations against him are not as serious as Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey. There is that imaginary line in the sand of what people can come back from."
Though right now, it may seem hard to imagine the actor being forgiven for his alleged behavior, she said, "Unless new allegations come out, he will probably emerge unscathed. He just has to play his cards right." Whether Franco deserves to remain unscathed is another conversation, though. If the allegations against him are in fact true, forgiveness would undoubtedly hinder the #MeToo movement's mission to hold perpetrators accountable.
It is the spin doctor's tricky and sometimes morally compromising job to help men like Franco win that proverbial gamble, regardless of the veracity of the claim. And even if they are innocent, she said, self-awareness is paramount. "Franco's first mistake was inviting scrutiny by wearing a Time's Up pin at the Golden Globes when he was on the record for texting with a 17-year-old girl. You have to look at your authenticity: Don't align yourself with a movement just because you think it looks good, because a lot of people can see through that—especially in his case, where it's no secret that he has a sordid sexual history."
According to the source, it is possible, and sometimes necessary, to apologize publicly for unforgivable acts. But transparency is key to winning back the public's good graces, because people can see through the bullshit. "It's very obvious when someone publishes an apology just to deflect the news. I didn't think Franco's response on Stephen Colbert was bad. He didn't try to discredit the victims, he said that speaking up is very much their right, he said that the allegations didn't happen. But he wasn't overly aggressive in the way that he spoke about it."
Almost as important as your tone is knowing your audience, the source continued. "Right now, people are not prepared for a man to put himself in a woman's shoes. In a sense, Franco has become the poster child for the hypocritical guy who's trying to up his own self-image by aligning with the movement."
Amid the allegations and a snub from the Academy for his Golden Globe-winning comedy The Disaster Artist, reports have emerged that Franco will not attend this year's Oscars ceremony on Sunday. While some think that it's appropriate for the actor to lay low, this expert considers his decision an admission of guilt. "The fact that he's not going is a news story on its own. My advice for him would be to go, be gracious, and either not do any interviews or do a very select few interviews. You want to lay low but not in a way that makes it seems like you're hiding."
She continued: "After rumors swirled and you've apologized for what happened, you need to keep your mouth shut, because you're just going to get more headlines, and what you want is for people to forget. Oftentimes, people want to keep talking when they're in a hole to dig themselves out, but you have to wait it out."
Right now, the allegations against Franco have taken a slight toll on the actor professionally, but the source estimates that his scandal will blow over in anywhere from three to six months. "Unless something else comes out, we won't be talking about James Franco by summer," she said. Though proponents of the movement would argue that keeping these stories at the media forefront is essential so true accusations of sexual harassment are remembered, acted upon, and punished appropriately. Franco himself made clear on Colbert that doesn't plan to stand in the way of any accusations. "I completely support people coming out and being able to have a voice because they didn't have a voice for so long,'' he said. "I don't want to shut them down in any way. I think it's a good thing and I support it."
Ultimately, if Franco wants to be forgiven by his industry and his former fans, there's one thing he will need to do that can't be spun, she said: change. "Franco is in a place where he's become a huge part of a news cycle that won't go away," the source said. "Anything he could do to fix this right now would feel disingenuous—he has to stay the course and really change. People forgive, but you can't be Anthony Weiner. The unequal power dynamic is so heavily rooted in our culture that it is greater than just one person or a few people. A lot more change needs to happen."