boy me / girl me
Actor, filmmaker, writer, teacher and man, James Franco, goes in conversation with actor, filmmaker, writer, teacher and woman, James Franco.
Boy James: Hi. You're the Girl James.
Girl James: Yes.
BJ: You only exist on paper.
GJ: True. But that is one of the great things about creative objects. You get to make anything you want, be anything you want. Boy, girl, alien, killer, lover, mother, brother, dog, rabbit, lion, piece of shit.
BJ: Right, art is a performance, just like life is a performance.
GJ: There you go again with all your actor shit, saying life is performative rather than something concrete.
BJ: Well, I think it is. At least who we are is performative.
GJ: Well, of course you think that, you're a white male living in America, brought up in one of the richest cities in the county, Palo Alto. You went to high school with Steve Jobs' daughter, and your journalism teacher is the mother-in-law of Sergey, co-founder of Google.
BJ: Yes, and your point is, Miss James?
GJ: That you're fucking privileged. You can view life as a performance because everything is at your disposal. The biggest thing you had to worry about in high school was how popular you were, and if the girl you liked liked you back.
BJ: Well, she didn't, by the way.
GJ: That's fucked up, you dated a girl for two years. Are you saying Jasmine wasn't the one you liked?
BJ: No, no, she was. But there was another girl who was out of my league who I was obsessed with, but she was secretly dating a teacher.
GJ: Well, there's another case of a man taking advantage of a woman.
BJ: Don't worry, he paid for it: he went to jail.
GJ: Okay, he got in trouble. But what of all the relationships that are not illegal according to the law, but are obviously based on a disparity of power?
BJ: Which are those?
GJ: I speak of the casting couch, motherfucker.
GJ: Yes. You know that you take advantage of your position as a famous actor to meet women.
BJ: Woah, woah, woah! Please, it's not like I'm going out there throwing my fame in everyone's face in order to meet women.
GJ: You don't have to, the fame and the fame-hungry world we live in does it all for you. I'm sure women are lining up on your Instagram account to meet you.
BJ: And? Why am I culpable for that? I don't even check my DMs anymore.
GJ: Yeah, we know why… because young ladies go on there and try to meet you.
BJ: Yup. There are no age restrictions for contacting me. But I don't contact them back.
BJ: Look, I never talked to anyone that was legally underage.
GJ: Okay, anyway, that's not even my point. I'm addressing an imbalance of power. Men in your position have women offering themselves in the hopes that they will get somewhere professionally, or socially.
BJ: Okay, but don't be fooled, there are plenty of powerful women who take advantage of their power to mess around with men in lower positions.
GJ: I'm sure it's a fraction of the number of men that do it, simply because the number of women in power positions is a fraction of the number of men in such positions.
BJ: Okay, well, I'll admit that I find it easier to be with women who aren't high profile actresses, simply because powerful actresses, like anyone with power, need to be worshipped. They demand it, and I find that that kind of obeisance in the long term is untenable.
GJ: Right, because you want to be worshipped.
BJ: Okay, whatever. Maybe I am high maintenance.
GJ: And I think a lot of that has to do with feeling like you are owed something because you are male.
BJ: Well, whatever I have, I worked hard for it. No one can dispute that. And I also took the risk of leaving UCLA to go to acting school at age 18 when everyone around me told me not to.
GJ: You still had your parents to fall back on if anything went wrong.
BJ: Maybe, maybe not.
GJ: Ah, the quality problems of a white boy from Palo Alto, heart of Silicon Valley wealth and technology.
BJ: Well, that's not fair. There is actually a huge suicide problem in Palo Alto schools, so obviously not all is well in paradise. High expectations, and the pressure to achieve in a highly competitive world are too much for a lot of very promising young people. There have been something like ten youth suicides in Palo Alto in the past ten years. They usually step in front of the train that runs by the high school.
GJ: Well, I feel for those students and their families. But I would argue that students in Palo Alto have it off a lot better than students in other places. Those high schools rate in the top one hundred public schools every year.
BJ: Okay, and what's your point? That privileged kids shouldn't be depressed?
GJ: No, everyone has problems. But for a long time privilege has been feeding privilege. I'm about giving some other people a shot. Like the ladies.
BJ: Another fact is that boys are falling behind girls in education. We're losing boys in our classrooms much more than we are girls.
GJ: Okay, forget about education and Palo Alto for a minute! I'm just saying that boys are still privileged over girls in all spheres.
BJ: Yes, men get higher salaries, men get more jobs, men control things. Generally speaking.
GJ: And certainly in our business, entertainment, women are vastly underrepresented.
BJ: Okay, I agree.
GJ: Right. So your little philosophy of life as a performance is cute, but I would argue that it's truer for boys than girls. Boys get to perform more than girls.
BJ: Life as a performance is just a way to look at life choices as character choices. Every morning you choose what to wear, you choose how to wear your hair, you choose your friends, you more or less choose your profession, and how hard you will work at it. Those are all things that an actor decides about his character when he is performing, and they are things that we decide in life. We create our "character."
GJ: Yes, I can see that parallel very clearly. But what you're not accounting for are the pressures and circumstances imposed on individuals because of where they are born, and who their parents are. What their race is, what their sex is. What their health is like, and how available medical care is. You were raised upper middle class in Palo Alto, by liberal parents who went to Stanford and Harvard, there was very little that wasn't at your disposal. So, yeah, you could be whoever you wanted to be, because all the tools were within your reach.
BJ: I totally agree that I was born into a very good situation. Not only was Palo Alto, materialistically speaking, an ideal place to grow up, I had two loving parents who stayed together until my father passed, and two loving brothers who I expect will be loyal friends until our deaths.
GJ: Well, there you go. That is not the case for many people in this country and around the world. Many people are raised in, and live in circumstances that put their lives out of their immediate control, regardless of what they want.
BJ: Yes, I know. But that fact doesn't refute the idea that life is a performance. In a movie, a book, or a play, a character doesn't live in a vacuum. She is subject to pressures from the world outside of her, just like we are in life. These pressures and circumstances shape character. Who your parents are determines your genetic make up: your skin colour, your sex, your height, weight. Where you are raised does affect your worldview (either positively or negatively), your accent. Your economic class affects where you go to school, what you eat, where you sleep.
GJ: No doubt, Sherlock.
BJ: Okay, but hold on, Watson. What I'm saying is that anyone has these pressures, and outside influences. These in a sense are the ordained parameters that gird every single person's life. They are the results of the cosmic roll of the dice: this person is born Aragon the Ranger, this person is born a prisoner in North Korea, this person is born Carlos the Dwarf. Some of these things are out of our control, but that doesn't mean that they can't be changed. A character (just like a person in real life) is a summation of her actions and feelings, her soul is the chrysalis born of the turning, winding, and writhing of these things against the outside world, and her spirit is the butterfly that bursts forth. Our actions and emotions are not performed against nothing, they do not arise from dust, we are in constant friction, and/or flow with our surroundings.
GJ: Yes, we were both created with given attributes, and given the freedom to act and react. But Adam was allowed to name all the animals, and Eve was made from Adam's rib, as a companion for him. No wonder she ate the apple, she was rebelling against a world where everything was stacked against her. She was just a prop to make Adam happy.
BJ: I totally agree. Her situation sucked.
GJ: A little knowledge from the apple was probably a welcome relief to break her from her chains of second-class servitude.
BJ: Yes, I wouldn't want to live life in an untroubled garden, blissful and ignorant. I would want to get out into the world, and be a part of something. In a way I was born into the Garden of Eden, or as close as you can get in our world; as you said I was born white, male, and in Palo Alto. I had it pretty kush.
GJ: So, why do you want to even talk to the female version of yourself? Why don't you just go on with your male self? You have it made. You get to do whatever you want, and like a dilettante, you do. You are the guest at a wedding party who doesn't just eat one dessert, you eat all the cakes on the table, because you can. And it pisses people off.
BJ: Okay. I know. I do a lot. But I give back too. I teach at four schools, doesn't that account for something? I'm giving young directors, writers, and actors opportunities to fulfil their dreams.
GJ: And how many of these students at UCLA, USC, CalArts, and your own Studio 4 are women? How many are non-whites?
BJ: Well, I don't work in admissions, but the classes are fairly diverse. It gives me hope for the future of filmmaking, if the demographics of film students say anything about who will be making movies in the next generation.
GJ: But I'm still pissed. You know why?
GJ: Because you're a man.
BJ: That's it? Because I'm a man?
GJ: Yes. I'm sick of seeing handsome white motherfuckers brood all over the screen. Who cares? You are the most privileged group of people in the world! At least give some others a chance to air their woes on screen.
BJ: Hey, I'm with you. I'm all about giving others a chance. I'm sick of the white boy movies too.
GJ: You are? Pshaw. All you direct are Faulkner and Steinbeck adaptations full of white people.
BJ: Well, that's because I'm trying to be loyal to the books. The books depict people from a specific time and place, and to go against that would destroy the historicity of those projects. In some cases I think it's fine to rewrite history, as in Inglourious Basterds because killing Hitler is wish fulfilment, or bettering of history, but I don't think that kind of thing is the point if one is adapting a great novelist like Faulkner. Or at least, not on the first go around. Maybe the next version of As I Lay Dying could be based on Suzan Lori-Park's Getting Mother's Body.
GJ: But why even choose Faulkner as a source? Why Steinbeck? Why not choose a book that deals with something other than white dudes?
BJ: You're right. But maybe I felt, implicitly, or not so implicitly, that subjects about women and other races were out of my jurisdiction as a creator. That if I moved too far from my own experience, and my own established identity, I would be criticized for taking even more of those wedding pies from others.
GJ: Wedding cakes, and yes, you probably would be criticized. But when did that ever stop you?
BJ: Criticism never stopped me.
GJ: Good, then practice what you preach. Give girls a chance. Give others a chance. When you gave your book, Palo Alto to Gia Coppola to adapt and direct as a movie that turned out pretty well.
BJ: Yeah, because I was being generous. People like it when one is generous. She wasn't even a filmmaker at that time, but I asked her to do it, because I believed in her as an artist. And because I wanted a woman's take on the material. The book is very male-centric, but Gia carved out a bunch of the female characters, and brought them to the fore in the movie. And the project was richer for it.
GJ: So, let me ask you this, if you could be a woman, would you be?
BJ: Here's a poem I wrote about it:
Hello woman, I'd like to be you.
Not because I don't enjoy my man
Body, my man strength, my man looks,
My man mind, but because I love yours
Even more. I love your woman body
I love your woman mind,
Your woman face that is delicate,
And even has a little downy hair.
I love the shapely soft parts,
I love the vagina lips, no cock,
I love the butt swoop, and the clean
Butthole in the middle.
I love the woman bond,
So much more than the man.
I love the woman desires,
The love, the strength, the connection
More. More, more, more.
The man is angry, the man
Is destructive, the man wants more.
The woman is more, the woman is all.
If I ever got high, it would be to be
The woman. If I ever did porn,
I'd want to be the woman.
I don't want to be the man in woman
I just want to be woman.
But I will never be woman.
I am man, trapped in man.
I have no escape from this body,
This mind, this upbringing.
My only escape is a poem,
Feel the curves
They are the liquid shape
Of my woman body.
GJ: I see. Well, you get the best of both worlds with that poem: you get to praise women, while still being a man in your body.
BJ: True. I guess I could have a sex change and become a woman, physically. But it some ways that isn't even necessary.
GJ: Why is that?
BJ: Because we live in a time when real life, and virtual life are at parity. We are so used to being creators, and creating versions of ourselves, mainly online, and through our communication technology, that I could very well picture myself as a woman, and consider myself a woman, even if my body would be classified as a male body by a medical examiner.
GJ: You're saying that we give much more credence to self-definition nowadays, rather than falling back on old criteria to tell us who we are?
GJ: And don't you think there is something about taking all the positive aspects of being a woman, and none of the pain, that is hypocritical? Or in a sense, isn't that just being a man all over again? By taking the good from others, while keeping them down.
BJ: Well, what can I do? I am a man! How can I help other than take on women's issues, collaborate with women on my films, teach women, be directed by women?
GJ: You could cut your dick off.
BJ: Cut my dick off, hmmmm...Yes, I guess I could. But wouldn't that just look like a publicity stunt?
GJ: Cut it off, and don't tell anyone.
BJ: Then everyone would still consider me a man.
GJ: Well, who decides? You or what everyone else thinks?
BJ: I guess I do.
GJ: Okay, then cut your dick off and call yourself a woman.
BJ: Maybe there is another solution?
GJ: Okay, Boy James, do you want to be in my girl squad?
BJ: Yes, I do, Girl James. What does that mean, being in a girl squad?
GJ: It means that in everything we do, we support women. We support women at all costs. And women of all types, classes, and races. The men have ruled for too long. It's time for the women to step up. And the squad insures that.
BJ: Okay, deal. Girl power!