Why are fans angry at the fact that Johnny Depp is in Fantastic Beasts? It’s less about him, and more about what the choice to keep him means.
Fantastic Beasts has found itself wrapped up in controversy. After allegations that Depp verbally and physically abused his ex-wife Amber Heard came to light, inconveniently close to the announcement of his new role as Grindelwald in the franchise, Warner Brothers has been dealing with fans’ protest of Depp’s employment. With The Crimes of Grindelwald clearly centering around Depp’s character, the controversy has become difficult to ignore.
Last month, Yates defended Depp in an interview. Despite the fact that his comments were disappointing and only served to upset fans even more, Rowling followed suit this week, posting a statement on her website, which was followed by Warner Brother’s own statement:
“This matter has been jointly addressed by both parties, in a statement in which they said “there was never any intent of physical or emotional harm.”
Based on the circumstances and the information available to us, we, along with the filmmakers, continue to support the decision to proceed with Johnny Depp in the role of Grindelwald in this and future films.”
This has sparked yet another installment of what is now one of the biggest disagreements within the Harry Potter fandom: should we be furious at the decision to cast an alleged abuser? Or should we state that we don’t know enough about the situation, and separate the man from his work?
But reducing this controversy to a series of names is oversimplifying the matter. Comment sections on articles about this issue often devolve into each person’s retelling of what happened between Depp and Heard, which inevitably begets petty fights about what is ‘mean’ and what isn’t — completely ignoring the moral dilemma Fantastic Beasts is currently facing, which goes far beyond celebrity gossip.
While it’s natural to be concerned about the possibility of misjudging someone, Depp’s alleged abuse is not one that the vast majority of us can view as personal, especially not in connection to Fantastic Beasts. When a franchise as big as this one, with this massive a fandom, finds itself connected to a high-profile abuse case, the effect the case has is so far-reaching that we must transcend the usual considerations we might have if we personally knew the people involved.
The truth is, this isn’t about whether Depp did or didn’t do what Heard alleged he did. This is about what Warner Brothers, Yates, and Rowling, chose to do with those allegations.
At this moment in history, we stand on the brink of change: either we allow this trend of holding abusers accountable to continue and become the status quo, or we let this pass like a fascinating phase in history that is eventually forgotten, as the ranks of filmmaking become repopulated by new monsters.
We are finally at a moment in which girls feel that they might actually be heard — a moment in which everyone, not just women, is beginning to question the ways in which we consume entertainment fed to us by horrible people. (As to our ability to separate monsters from the art I create, I couldn’t say much beyond pointing you towards this excellent piece.)
In the face of this, Depp’s own fate — shunned, forgotten, or ultimately forgiven — fades in importance. And so the explanations given by people like Yates and Rowling become particularly hollow. Because defending the casting decision with “Based on our understanding of the circumstances, the filmmakers and I are not only comfortable sticking with our original casting, but genuinely happy” and “it seems to me there was one person who took a pop at him and claimed something,” rather than acknowledging the social impact of the case, reeks of willful ignorance and a readiness to renounce accountability.
Dylan Farrow, who has long alleged that Woody Allen molested her as a child, penned an op-ed this week speaking out against Hollywood’s willingness to give Allen a free pass while people like Harvey Weinstein are publicly torn down. Why the double standard? She offers a list of quotes by high-profile actors who, despite being openly feminist and socially conscious, turn a blind eye to the director’s crimes… in words that sound disturbingly reminiscent of Rowling’s own statement.
“Of Allen, [Kate Winslet] said “I didn’t know Woody and I don’t know anything about that family. As the actor in the film, you just have to step away and say, I don’t know anything, really, and whether any of it is true or false. Having thought it all through, you put it to one side and just work with the person. Woody Allen is an incredible director.”
On the subject of Allen, [Blake Lively] said, “It’s very dangerous to factor in things you don’t know anything about. I could [only] know my experience.””
There are stark differences, of course, between pedophiles and rapists and domestic abusers — but all are crimes. And let’s face it, people have been fired from movies for much, much less. Disney’s Star Wars has already gotten rid of four of its original six directors. Actors have been replaced for issues as small as scheduling conflicts. And Depp had a total of two scenes and one spoken line. In the face of so many quick and effective reactions from studios like Netflix, Warner Brother’s reticence to effect change looks particularly bad.
This isn’t a witch-hunt seeking to end Depp’s career. His career is irrelevant to this conversation. The anger we’re feeling as fans is not even necessarily anger on Heard’s behalf — it’s anger at Warner Brothers’ decision to allow the Harry Potter franchise, which is built around a story of the oppressed overcoming their oppressors, to become yet another refuge for powerful abusers.
While other fandoms were plagued with controversies, Harry Potter remained clear of scandals for years. Emma Watson grew up to become a worldwide advocate for women’s rights. Rowling funds multiple charities for women’s rights, and was herself a struggling single mother. As fans, we have always felt proud of having a fandom where we knew we could find support. A place where our values were put into practice; where survivors were believed, empowered, and ultimately celebrated.
This is not a decision befitting the standard set by the Harry Potter films. And Warner Brothers’ comfortable choice to continue to employ Depp at the expense of our morals is making us angry.