TIME magazine selected the #metoo movement as their Person of the Year. It wasn’t a surprising move and very well deserved. The movement has shown a shift in America’s way of thinking, where finally victims of sexual harassment and abuse are being believed and perpetrators are facing consequences. Society has, by no means, completely fixed the problem (very notably in the political sphere), but we have definitely seen a shift in the right direction in 2017.
This is why the casting and continued support of Johnny Depp in the role of Grindelwald is so problematic; especially in a fandom such as Harry Potter.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, Amber Heard filed for divorce from her then-husband Johnny Depp in mid-2016. She accused him of having been “verbally and physically abusive” during their relationship. Both Depp’s legal team and many in the media painted her as a greedy D-list actress looking for her payday. But the following investigation saw Heard providing proof of her injuries, witness statements, and a video of one of Depp’s violent fits. People continued to question her and the authenticity of her evidence in the court of public opinion, even more so as Depp’s former romantic partners came out to defend him. The couple later reached a settlement, issuing the following statement:
“Our relationship was intensely passionate and at times volatile, but always bound by love. Neither party has made false accusations for financial gains. There was never an intent of physical or emotional harm. Amber wishes the best for Johnny in the future. Amber will be donating financial proceeds from the divorce to a charity.”
During this time, Depp’s casting as the wizard Gellert Grindelwald was announced. It was a very minor role in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and fans largely understood it to be a decision made well before Heard’s accusations went public.
Fan backlash against his continuing to portray the role of Grindelwald grew significantly as the #metoo movement gained steam. Harry Potter fans finally began to see powerful men face consequences for their poor behavior. Their push to recast the role appeared to grow greatly online after Ridley Scott announced he would be replacing Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer in the lead role of All the Money in the World less than two months before the film’s release following multiple assault and harassment allegations against Spacey. Harry Potter after all, taking place in a world filled with magic where people can change their appearance at will, could very easily recast a role in a movie with a release date a year away.
When Warner Brothers released a teaser image and title of the film, fans reacted swiftly and angrily upon seeing not only Depp remaining in the role of Grindelwald, but being the central character in the film titled Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Director David Yates seemingly defensive response to the criticism in which he appeared to criticize the #metoo movement and dismiss Heard’s allegations did not help matters. He cited Depp’s “decency and kindness,” only noting the accusations as “one person who took a pop at him.”
The issue of abuse holds a special significance for Harry Potter fans, as many connect with the main character’s story of neglect and abuse early in his life. Additionally, with the book series originally being released from 1997 to 2007, fans of the series are now largely adults who have grown up in the age of social media. This generation experiences great overlap with the #metoo movement that initially grew out of social media.
This is why fans had such a visceral reaction when JK Rowling, a person held up by young people across the internet as someone willing to stand up to wrongdoing, defended and supported Depp. She noted fans’ “legitimate concerns and questions” about Depp’s casting and went as far as to say they considered replacing him in the role. But she went on to complain about an inability to discuss the issue peacefully with fans and concluded that “based on [their] understanding of the circumstances” she was “genuinely happy to have Johnny playing a major character in the movies.”
We’ve reached a point in both fandom and society where we’re no longer willing to accept the “your fave is problematic” and move on. That is now only acceptable for minor grievances as supporting a hated sports team or liking pineapple on pizza. The backlash against Johnny Depp in one of the internet’s biggest fandoms is a key tipping point in the #metoo movement within fandom. It remains to be seen if Warner Brothers gamble that their continued support of Depp will pay off when it comes to box office sales.
What do you of think of Depp’s continued inclusion in the Harry Potter film universe?