Should James Franco Have Blocked Tommy Wiseau From the Mic?

Photo: NBC/Youtube

You were probably taking a bathroom break when it happened, but when In the Fade director Fatih Akin won the Golden Globe award for Best Foreign Film, he somewhat unconventionally brought his lead actress Diane Kruger onstage with him to accept the award. Typically, directors and producers accept the film awards, but there’s no rule dictating so, and Akin appeared to have selected the collaborator he thought was most instrumental to In the Fade’s success. After saying his thank-yous, Akin, flustered and genuinely excited about the win, prompted Kruger to say a few words. Knowing it was not exactly her moment, she gave him a skeptical look, but Akin insisted: “This is yours! This is ours!” She relented and leaned in, politely thanking the HFPA for “elevating this movie.” The playoff music was already swelling by that point, and the two made their exit.

It’s a normal, well-adjusted human response to wish to share a success with the people who you believe helped you achieve it. Which is what seemed to be happening when James Franco invited Tommy Wiseau, whom he portrays in The Disaster Artist, onstage for his acceptance for the Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy award. But in what now has to be one of the most scrutinized moments of last night’s awards telecast, Franco blocked Wiseau from the mic when the notorious director of The Room made a beeline for it. Everyone onstage was laughing, but something about the moment didn’t sit right with people watching from home, myself included. (Also, have you heard Tommy Wiseau laugh?)

The moment fueled a Twitter debate that lasted well into the night. But it’s hard to articulate the dynamics of the moment in 280 characters, so let’s work backward step-by-step from Franco’s speech and Wiseau’s non-speech to find out made this moment so awkward (for us sensitive souls who found it awkward, anyway).

4. Franco should not have blocked Tommy Wiseau from the microphone.
I’m actually of two minds when it comes to the block itself. On the one hand, of course Franco shouldn’t let Wiseau speak before he’s even gotten through the first sentence of his planned remarks. This is his award for his performance, and of course his speech comes first. I cannot see inside Tommy Wiseau’s mind (to my extreme regret) but it doesn’t appear that he is sensitive to or cares about that particular unspoken order of operations. On the other hand: You have the opportunity to get Tommy Wiseau on the mic at the Golden Globes, and you shut it down? Surely an appreciator of performance art such as Franco could recognize a potential moment in Globes history.

There is the argument that Wiseau, who has a track record of barely coherent/retrograde ideas about women, particularly women in Hollywood, would not acquit himself well, given the opportunity. That his comments would sully a night otherwise devoted to earnest statements about solidarity and women’s stories. Heaven forbid Wiseau be revealed as a weird creep, or that the subject of Franco’s film, which he has been out on the circuit talking up as a story of dreams and friendship, turns out to be anything other than an innocent quirkster. Franco keeping Wiseau from opening his mouth allows Wiseau to continue to be a useful point of laughter to buoy The Disaster Artist’s awards journey.

4a. Franco should not have blocked Wiseau from the stage, only to immediately do an impression of him.

3. Franco should not have invited Wiseau onstage.
The summons is telling all on its own: Franco makes his way from a table a couple rows from the stage, while motioning across the room with a beckoning of his hand to Wiseau, who is seated with The Room co-star Greg Sestero, up in the upper tier of the ballroom, far out of the camera zone. Wiseau (and Sestero, who wrote the book upon which The Disaster Artist is based) did not have a seat at the film’s table. Nobody could be blamed for not wanting to eat dinner next to Tommy Wiseau, but it’s an undeniably weird look to kick things off.

It also clarifies what James Franco needs out of Wiseau, who has been present for many awards-season appearances. He is not a friend, or even much of a collaborator, despite being the subject of the film. He’s an attention-grabber; even for those in the audience who have no idea who he is or what The Room is, his perpetual sunglasses and deep-fried hair stand out in an industry crowd. He is primarily a prop, someone whose Hollywood dreams Franco can wax sincere about, often while he is standing right there.

It takes a hell of a lot of nerve to make a movie whose primary joke is what an inept weirdo the real-life subject is, then get out on the red carpets and assert over and over again that it’s a tribute to that subject’s dreams; that you even identify with your subject. In a way, Franco calls his own bluff by inviting Wiseau onstage on the condition he keep his mouth shut. If The Disaster Artist were truly, honestly a movie about Tommy Wiseau, unconventional dreamer, he’d get mic time. And it’s hard to blame Wiseau for interpreting his invitation to the stage as an opportunity for said mic time, after being Franco’s cause célèbre for the past few months. But in keeping with the rest of his Disaster Artist appearances, he was just there to make faux pas and be gawked at.

Of course, Wiseau is not the only other non-Golden Globe winner Franco brought up; his brother and co-star Dave stood to his left, and also did not speak. This is because, compared to Wiseau, Dave Franco appears to be aware of social niceties at industry events. But were he to go for the microphone during his brother’s acceptance speech, I guarantee you James would have let him speak.

2. Franco should not have invited Wiseau to the Golden Globes.
Again, Wiseau’s presence gets Franco and his film in the blogs, so of course this was never a possibility. And while I tend to cringe at the idea that being invited to an awards ceremony is some grand privilege and blessing for lowly outsiders, nobody probably appreciated the invitation more than Wiseau. Plus, if he never attended, we’d never get the photo-op that the Human Punchline Department of Awards Season has been waiting for:

1. Franco should not have made The Disaster Artist.
The most repeated pushback to my tweet about this matter during the telecast was that Franco does not in fact “owe” Wiseau anything. That it is in fact the opposite; Wiseau owes Franco for putting him in the spotlight and letting him be his arm candy during the film’s awards campaign. Never mind the fact that despite The Disaster Artist’s acclaim and awards buzz, it’s still impossible to watch The Room at home on any other medium than a physical DVD, or that Franco’s re-creation of the film’s scenes will ultimately reach more eyeballs than the original. Franco is more famous and has more mainstream success under his belt, so because of that hierarchy, The Disaster Artist is by definition an act of lifting up.

This argument is the kind of specious fame-equals-meritocratic-privilege thing that is the root of so many of the problems that have gotten Hollywood into the three-alarm existential emergency it finds itself in in 2018. We could find a zillion easier folks to defend than Tommy Wiseau, but I still find it hard to justify much of The Disaster Artist’s final form, and hard to believe that it serves any higher purpose than having a laugh at an outsider. It’s clear Franco fancies himself an outsider, but that half-second block threw the actual power dynamic into harsh relief.

Should James Franco Have Blocked Tommy Wiseau From the Mic?