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James Franco’s ‘The Disaster Artist’ is Simply White Male Mediocrity
Don’t pity Tommy Wiseau for not getting a word in at the Golden Globes, both him and Franco are celebrated for nothing more than being overconfident assholes.
By Nicole Froio
Once you’re awake, you can’t ever truly enjoy a movie again. That’s the conclusion I got to watching James Franco’s “The Disaster Artist”, a comedy about the production of the worst film ever made turned cult classic “The Room”.
Franco, who won a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical and Comedy, set out to tell the bizarre story of Tommy Wiseau, a quirky-looking, strange-acting man whose dream was to be a Hollywood actor, and his quest to write and film his ‘masterpiece’. However, given the continuous revelations of sexual assault and harassment in the last four months and the practices of abuse of power that seem to be pervasive in Hollywood, Franco’s “The Disaster Artist” shows how white male privilege is uplifted in society—even if the ‘artist’ in question is essentially a failure.
The fact that Franco’s movie is billed as a comedy shows how he thinks white male privilege and the abuse that often comes with it is a huge joke. Franco himself was caught trying to pick up a minor in 2014, and is now being accused of taking advantage of actress Sarah Tither-Kaplan. No wonder he made a movie that essentially celebrates white male incompetence and abuse.
When Wiseau and his friend Greg Sestero move to LA to try their luck in Hollywood, it is obvious that they are both painfully, objectively untalented. While Sestero can rely on his good looks and youth, Wiseau’s frighteningly pale skin, long greasy black hair and creepy demeanor puts him in an extreme disadvantage when auditioning for parts. His Eastern European accent would perhaps be forgiven if it wasn’t for his insistence that he is 100% American and from New Orleans. From the very moment anyone meets Wiseau, it’s evident that something is off; yet, his strange behavior is forgiven as quirky and eccentric by Sestero.
Hollywood, however, is not so accepting of Wiseau. “Just because you want it, it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen,” a Hollywood producer tells him. “I’m telling you, it’s not going to happen.” In response to the painful truth of his own incompetence, Wiseau decides to prove everyone wrong and spend five million dollars in making his own movie. He could have accepted his lack of talent—it happens all the time! People realize their dreams aren’t coming true!—or spent a lot less money on acting classes and try harder, but if you have a bottomless pit of money, why not cut corners?
“The Disaster Artist” attempts to position Wiseau as an underdog, that awkward kid no one believes in but overcomes obstacles in his own way and succeeds against all odds. But how can Wiseau be an underdog when he can pay to make his own film? How many awkward marginalized people can buy their way into an industry when they are explicitly told no? How many victims of sexual assault had the capability to buy their own parts when powerful abusers were edging them out of the industry?
Wiseau is seen as an underdog because he fails to perform hegemonic masculinity. Despite this, he still wields his white male privilege as a weapon, abusing those who work for him throughout the production of “The Room”. At one point, Wiseau expresses disgust over his female co-star’s naked body as they’re about to film a sex scene, humiliating her in front of the whole cast and crew. When confronted by Sestero, Wiseau justifies his behavior by saying Hitchcock famously abused his cast to get the right reactions for his movies. Wiseau abuses the people in his life in an attempt to perform the hegemonic masculinity he perceives as successful, and he isn’t wrong: Hollywood is ran by abusive men who refuse to be held accountable for their actions.
Wiseau constantly blames those around him for his own failings, rather than considering that his behavior is unacceptable and that he should work to improve as a person. Men like Wiseau (albeit somewhat more talented) rule Hollywood and they can mold their movies to fit their fantasies and pass them off as reality. These men have succeeded in making women seem like the ones who perform victimhood, yet there’s no shortage of movies with emotionally stunted men who are unable to seek self-improvement and look beyond their own desires (see: Harvey Weinstein and Woody Allen).
“The Room” reveals how Wiseau—and many white men—see themselves and their lives: tragedy happens to them, problems arrive in their lives, and they play no part in any of it, so they have no responsibility to change. “The Disaster Artist” skirts around revealing this badly kept secret by showing how detached from reality Wiseau seemed to be during the production of his film; everyone betrayed him and he was not responsible for that. We only have to look at the pathetic excuses men gave for their abuses of women and men in Hollywood to see this is a pattern: Weinstein blames his abuses on sex addiction, washing his hands clean of personal responsibility and blaming society for his failings. Louis CK gave similar excuses for his bad behavior, and Kevin Spacey blamed his sexuality.
If “The Disaster Artist” had focused on how damaging that is, it could have been a much better movie. As it is, it fails to say much about Wiseau’s strange rise to cult fame because Franco doesn’t realize that this phenomenon is not strange at all. The uplifting of white male incompetence with a sprinkle of abuse and misogyny is commonplace in society, and the dodging of accountability that follows abuse even more so. Don’t pity Tommy Wiseau for not getting a word in at the Golden Globes, both him and Franco are celebrated for nothing more than being overconfident assholes.
Author Bio: Nicole Froio is a Brazilian-Colombian writer, researcher and PhD candidate. She writes about pop culture, women’s rights, feminism, LGBTQ issues, books and hegemonic masculinity. She loves to read, crochet and smash the patriarchy, one article at a time.