UW Oshkosh held a lecture Thursday highlighting actor James Franco and how he is creating a new dialogue for the queer community with his work presented by political science professor Jerry Thomas.
The lecture was co-sponsored by the Political Science Department and the LGBTQ Resource Center. Thomas began his lecture by explaining how Franco’s idea of sexualities differs from those of other well-known celebrities.
“What people might not know is that he is a queerist,” Thomas said. “Franco suggests that sexualities are best described as social or political constructions. He challenges popular understanding by putting queer sex into mainstream films.”
Thomas explained the queer theory to the audience to help them understand how it fits into Franco’s work.
“It’s a political ideology, a commitment to live outside of some social norm or another,” Thomas said. “Queer theory is also a little bit constructivist, which means it’s also a little anti-identitarian where the focus isn’t on who one is but rather what one does. I am heterosexual, or I am bi[sexual], those are sort of the identitarian view, where you are one thing.”
Thomas said stars like Lady Gaga turn sexuality into something that can be used to help appearances, while Franco uses constructivist theory to help people understand queers.
“There are queer things in Franco’s work, including constructivist discourses surrounding sexuality that differ from other high profile celebrities, such as Lady Gaga who provoke sexualities as an aid and essentialized,” Thomas said.
UWO student Donnie Bantle said he was excited to attend the lecture because of how interesting the topic sounded.
“I was intrigued by learning more about how James Franco has added to the queer community,” Bantle said.
After sitting through the lecture, Bantle said at first he wasn’t a fan of Franco’s movement, but eventually changed his views to support Franco.
“At first I thought his actions were kind of mocking queerness, but I just think more people need to be aware he is just expressing his queerness,” Bantle said. “However, I clearly see his movement and I hope more people break down the scripts that society follows about sexuality. I believe sexuality is very fluid and that it’s not something that has an exact definition, which was clearly presented in the presentation.”
Thomas said he first became interested in Franco after hearing about his work with the film “Interior. Leather Bar.”
“It was probably this film, ‘Interior. Leather Bar.’ when I began to look at the dialogue that was happening,” Thomas said. “It really resonated, it made me go back and start to read some of his works, and I started to become educated in his ways.”
UWO student Danielle Smith said the presentation taught her Franco was more than just an actor and that it was nice to see him confident with who he is.
“We as students, I’m sure, are familiar with him as an actor, but I never truly realized all the great points about Franco until I had attended the lecture,” Smith said.
“It is great to see a well-known actor embrace his inner self and feel comfortable showing that on and off the stage. The fact that Franco isn’t afraid to let his queerness shine and it motivates him in his work, is inspiring to his fans and even other actors/actresses.”
Smith said the thing that stuck out most during the lecture was the idea of sexualities and how they are best conceived as social constructions. She said she applauds Franco on normalizing being queer and being openly proud of it.
“One cannot accept things in society until they are aware of the new social norms, and I feel Franco is trying to change that,” Smith said. “He is setting an example for others and for the future, to embrace and accept the new social norms which is wonderful and inspiring.”