From Lea Michele to James Franco: The Great Un-canceling is upon us


Two years ago, Lea Michele seemed almost totally unemployable. 

The “Glee” star was “canceled” in June 2020 after she tweeted in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, and former co-star Samantha Ware, a black woman, shot back that Michele had been an on-set bully. Ware wrote on Twitter in all caps, “I believe you told everyone that if you had the opportunity you would
‘s – – t in my wig!’ ”

Other “Glee” actors piled on accusations of cruelty, which led Michele to apologize on Instagram for her mean girl behavior. But the damage was done. Like many a canceled celeb, she rode off to a metaphorical Siberia . . . never to be seen again . . .

Until this September, that is, when the “Spring Awakening” actress, 35, will take over the leading role of Fanny Brice in the Broadway revival of “Funny Girl.”   

One Oscar voter said fans are ready to forgive, forget and enjoy the show. “Everybody knows deep down that many of their favorite stars through the ages were probably a – – holes, and so this seems like something people can get past for the show.”

Once canceled, Lea Michele is returning to the limelight in Broadway’s “Funny Girl.”
Getty Images

Does that mean that The Great Un-Canceling is upon us? 

Hollywood and Broadway sources tell The Post that bigwigs are wrestling behind the scenes with how to bring back stars with messy pasts who had been sent to the glamorous glue factory. Who is redeemable? Who isn’t? Has enough time passed since the news? Does the paying public even care anymore?

“Certainly we are seeing those guilty of lesser demeanors starting to crawl out of hibernation,” an industry source said of the changing landscape. “They are off the ground once more. But will they be able to fly again? We shall see.” 

And the trend extends from coast to coast.

James Franco will star in a new movie called “Me, You” after several years away from acting.
Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP

This month, the Hollywood Reporter revealed that James Franco, who was accused by five women of sexual misconduct in 2018 at the height of the #MeToo movement, will also return to acting in a new film called “Me, You.” 

When his comeback was announced, the backlash was . . . nearly nonexistent. 

A couple years ago, that relative silence would’ve been shocking. The man was a pariah. In a 2019 lawsuit, two of Franco’s acting students alleged that he “sought to create a pipeline of young women who were subjected to his personal and professional sexual exploitation in the name of education.” Franco, now 44, settled with them for $2.2 million, and was never charged with a crime.

Countless stories and columns were written about the scandal, and it features prominently in the new dark-side-of-Hollywood documentary “Body Parts.” Everybody — and I mean everybody — wrote Franco off as donezo, but like it or not, he’s back.

Sort of.

James Franco (right) once starred in major movies like “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”
AP Photo/Twentieth Century Fox

One Hollywood top dog says Franco won’t return to his previous heights of appearing in tentpoles like “Spider-Man” or “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” “Those people are getting horrible jobs,” they said. “Nothing like what they had at all.” 

Of Michele, a Broadway source said that prior to her controversy, the actress would never have willingly come second to Beanie Feldstein, who originated the role of Fanny in the revival.

“Lea would have expected to have opened ‘Funny Girl,’ ” they said, “And probably should have.”

Still, these diminished stars are no longer in hiding. And nobody seems to mind. The public’s appetite for cancelation has waned thanks to COVID-19, crime, inflation and the million other storms we’re contending with at once. The bar for banishment has risen. Sharply.

Kevin Spacey will go on trial for sexual assault in the UK next year.
Getty Images

Some nonnegotiable offenses are obvious: sex crimes and harassment, for instance, cannot be tolerated. 

Actor Kevin Spacey is the most high-profile ongoing example. The Oscar winner goes on trial for sexual assault in the UK next year (he pleaded not guilty) and, unless his name is cleared, he continues to be a liability for film studios. Yes, Spacey has a low-budget Italian movie on the way co-starring Faye Dunaway, who, as my colleague Michael Riedel reported, has had her share of backstage meltdowns. But is a new “House of Cards” in the cards? I think not. 

Louis C.K., meanwhile, has been swiftly uncanceled even though he creepily masturbated in front of female employees who were not into it. His second chance is undeserved. Ya gotta make a buck, but Louis should go hawk Cayman Island timeshares with Armie Hammer — another one who doesn’t deserve a second chance.

Lapses of judgment should get a second look, though.

Matt Damon was excoriated last year for idiotically revealing during an interview that he didn’t know “f – – – – t” was a gay slur, and admitting that he used it at the family dinner table. The stupid star apologized and narrowly avoided cancelation. Good. It is not a crime to be a moron.

And, in February, when Whoopi Goldberg wrongly asserted on “The View” that the Holocaust was “not about race,” she was suspended — not fired. That was the right call. She said sorry and learned from her mistake.

Attitude issues shouldn’t be grounds for removal from the planet either.

Broadway sources say Michele is hardly a pleasure to work with, but I say if she sells tickets, she sells tickets. Chrissy Teigen messaged teenage stars to “kill themselves,” and she’s still around and getting kind write-ups about her year of sobriety. I say if she sells cookbooks, she sells cookbooks.

“The dust is settling and some new form of order is emerging,” an industry source added. “And with it, some of the talent.”