In screening Interior. Leather Bar. the other day oddly enough the perfect segue to discussing the stigma or connotation that an actor participating in Disney film is hung with.
Interior. Leather Bar. is a film that toes the line of narrative documentary in an attempt to recreate/reimagine the footage that William Friedkin was forced to cut from his 1980 film Cruising to appease the MPAA. So the topics that are discussed are clearly homosexuality, censorship, artistic merit, public perception and the like. How good an idea the so-called project is, and the merits therein are constantly debated “You were in a Disney movie” the character Val states to James Franco to which he replies:
“Being in a Disney movie and doing this that’s the point. That’s what’s giving it it’s power.”
James Franco as of lately has been versatile enough that he probably could’ve gotten away with not having said anything about his appearance in the The Great and Powerful Oz, but in the conversation on public perception it does carry significant weight. The public, as a whole, likes an easy association.
A quick example, would be when Julie Andrews was topless in S.O.B. Surely, over the years Andrews had developed a persona. And part of the idea was to buck that in this role, and that lent some shock to the maneuver, but more often than not the thought wasn’t it was Julie Andrews who would do such a thing, but rather, Maria and more to the point Mary Poppins.
In more recent, more directly Disney-related incidents actor Jake T. Austin used a profanity in a tweet and the overwhelming reaction from those who responded negatively wasn’t really just about his syntax. Rather it was that he cursed while, or perhaps, just after finishing his run on Disney. His response was level-headed and something to the effect of “I may have been on Disney, but I’m human.”
Sure, even I am surprised that Disney doesn’t crack the whip on the social media activity of its contracted actors more, but that just highlights the fact that these are people, they are not branded cattle, but the perception publicly remains that the image portrayed in fiction is the persona in reality.
This is perhaps more true of Disney kids, and former Disney kids, than any other subset in entertainment. Disney is perhaps the most recognized brand around. And unprovable memes about what Walt would think of the Disney Channel as if he never dealt in cheese aside, the brand is still preserved and still seeking some of the same ideals while entertaining, but that doesn’t make the player automatons like those found in Magic Kingdom attractions.
Sure, we can sit back and comment upon the judgment, or lack their of shown in the exploits of Miley Cyrus and the photos of Dylan Sprouse, but the fact of the matter is whatever we think of such things Disney really shouldn’t enter the equation. Miley is very clearly no longer interest in her former persona or alter ego, and the Sprouses whether self-photographed or not, have already discussed the end of their Disney tenure. Therefore any current misstep or perceived misstep ought not lead back to where they started.
However, it invariably does, in a way its human nature. That brings us back to Franco. While there is a scripted nature to the film at hand, in spite of the documentarian approach, there is a consciousness and a willingness to use his name, and recent associations to garner attention for the film he’s making and the ideas he’s exploring. It’s a shrewd move to address it and consciously use it as opposed to running for it. Either way, whether the Disney connection should be used or not, he knows the link will exist in some minds and he willingly exploits it here to good effect.