In November of 2016, just weeks before Harry Potter spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them hit theatres, we first got word of Johnny Depp’s cameo and significant involvement in the sequel. People were not happy. Earlier that same year, his (then) wife Amber Heard filed a restraining order against the actor before the saga concluded with her donating the entirety of her $7 million divorce settlement to the American Civil Liberties Union. Despite all this, Depp still showed up for his silly cameo a few months later, and he’ll keep looking silly when Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald arrives next year.
That image of Depp (he’s on the far right), along with the goofy title referring to his character, were released yesterday. I think they’re both incredibly dumb and I get the sense that I’m not alone. Here’s the thing, though. It doesn’t matter that he looks silly or that these movies may not be as good as the ones they spun out of. People are still upset about Depp’s continued inclusion in a multi-million dollar studio franchise, and it warrants discussion.
As you’re probably aware, Hollywood has had a string of abuse scandals unearthed over the last few weeks, from Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, to Louis CK and Brett Ratner (barely the tip of the iceberg), most of them involving sexual assault or sexual harassment. A case involving physical domestic abuse definitely belongs in that wheelhouse, and those initial sparks appear to have lit a fuse under the industry’s collective backside. People are losing jobs over this. Good. Their entire careers might be over. Also good. It’s about time these things happened to abusers, rather than victims they’ve silenced or even forced out of the industry.
A frequent criticism of how these things have been going down has been the seemingly bewildered inquiry into “What happened to innocent until proven guilty?” which is always a good thing to keep in mind when a court is trying to rob you of that fundamental legal concept. But there are no courts involved in this proceeding, other than that of public opinion. Whether it’s Spacey or CK, companies choosing not to work with an accused sexual predator any longer is nowhere near approaching the presumption of legal guilt by a court, so please, retire that argument. The next phase of response tends to involve demands for evidence, often with the knowledge that there cannot be any in most scenarios brought up after the fact. But, if you’re a stickler for that talking point and believe that women (and several men) have been coming forward with their harrowing stories and re-living trauma for a moment in the limelight that involves no financial gain, constant public scrutiny, online aggression and even death threats, ah, sure, I guess you’ve technically got something resembling an opinion.
In the case of Depp though, you most definitely do not have a leg to stand on if legality is your key benchmark for morality (you know, that thing that’s historically worked out so well). The restraining order Heard filed against Depp? The judge granted it, meaning there was a preponderance of the evidence. So if you’ve ever asked for legal proof whenever someone has come forward with claims of abuse, I’m afraid you now have a moral obligation to agree with me when I say the following:
Johnny Depp should not be part of this franchise.
In fact, Johnny Depp should not be part of any franchise in the immediate future. Sometime after that? Not for me to decide. Maybe once there’s some indication that the fifty-four-year-old has taken concrete steps towards changing who he is as a person, but given that no such indication exists (he certainly hasn’t lost any work because of his domestic abuse allegations), that future seems pretty far off. To be clear, I’m not concerned with exacting a pound of flesh or “punishing” Depp. My ideal model of justice is rehabilitative, not retributive. I couldn’t care less if he “did his time” or “paid his debt to society” or whatever other platitudes one might use in this scenario. What I do care about is the fact that he’s still a danger to people, especially women, and putting him in a position of importance and influence is putting him in the proximity of a lot of other women who might fall victim to his behavior. Not only do I think Johnny Depp should not be part of this franchise, I think WB and the people involved with this film have a moral and ethical responsibility to make sure he isn’t.
But of course, I’m just one person behind a keyboard. Warner Bros. is a massive money-making machine, and the film business involves innumerable moving parts. The film has been in production since July, and recasting & reshooting a bunch would be really, really expensive and inconvenient! Don’t believe me? Just ask Ridley Scott, who made the expensive, inconvenient and ultimately correct decision to reshoot all of Kevin Spacey’s scenes in All The Money In The World just a month before release after the actor was accused of sexual assault.
Of course, even Scott’s decision about Spacey was met with claims that it was financial rather than ethical. But so what? Not long ago, that’s not something people would have even considered doing. Now, in a post-Weinstein world, it’s no longer financially viable to have known abusers in your movie. People no longer feel like they have to be silent about their abuse, which is why you have one or two major allegations dropping every single day now (add Travolta and Stallone to your “burn it down” list), and studios and producers seen as protecting these people’s behaviour will rightly be taken to task. Even if you forego the notion that Time Warner or any of its subsidiaries have an ethical obligation here, the last 24 hours of online reactions to Depp have made it clear. This conversation isn’t going away, so it’s absolutely in the franchise’s best interests that he no longer plays a part.
Eventually, cynical as it might sound, that’s what’s going to do the trick here. Being associated with these people on a massive global scale is becoming bad for business, and the more the powers that be are aware of that, the more likely they are to suck it up and behave like responsible people.
As of now, Johnny Depp’s involvement seems to still be the plan for Part 2. The same is probably true for Parts 3, 4 and 5, though from a narrative standpoint, the hypothetical scenario in which he’s replaced prior to November 2018 doesn’t seem as complicated as it would for any other franchise. Depp has had all of one minute of screen time in this series, and most general audiences aren’t going to retain his cameo going into the second installment. A full movie starring Depp however, with the desire to recast him later? That puts WB in an even more difficult position. Even so, we’ve already established that his character is a guy who can physically alter his appearance (Colin Farrell disappointingly morphed into Depp at the end of the last film) so no one’s going to nitpick the logic of it.
Look, any producer and studio would be held accountable immediately for something like this today, online if not by others in the industry. That’s a necessary shift we’re all getting used to, but it warrants mentioning how disappointing and ironic this specific instance is coming from the producers of the globally beloved Harry Potter franchise. The Fantastic Beasts sequel is gearing up to re-introduce fan-favourite Albus Dumbledore for a long-term, Grindelwald-centric story spanning several decades. This was a period Dumbledore spoke of in J.K. Rowling’s novels and one of his regrets was not trying to stop Grindelwald’s violence sooner, despite knowing he was in a position to do so.
I do hope the people tasked with telling this story are able to learn from it.