Johnny Depp
Johnny Depp (Photo: Getty)

OPINION

Why is Hollywood so keen to forgive Johnny Depp?

Apparently, the film industry is facing up to the sexism and abuse of power that plagues it – but Fantastic Beasts 2 tells a different story, says Kat Lister

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By Kat Lister on

Social media is angry today – and the focus of its wrath is the latest Fantastic Beasts movie – or, should I say, its choice of leading man. “Why are we letting Johnny Depp still be a thing?” one woman tweeted. “I wholeheartedly agree that Johnny Depp is a fantastic beast,” quipped US journalist Lauren Duca. “However, I wish I did not know where to find him.” In JK Rowling’s fantastical world of good versus evil, the actor’s problematic past is marking him out as an unwelcome fictional villain. For fans who, in the words of one angry tweeter, “turn to Harry Potter as a source of comfort and healing”, previous accusations of domestic abuse bring his reality too close to their fiction.

“We need to talk about Johnny Depp,” I said to my colleagues this morning – and those seven words were met with seven solemn nods all round. Perhaps you’re nodding, reading this, too. Maybe you’re angry, like me – because the truth is, we talked about Johnny Depp a year ago. We’ve been here before. And yet, here we are again, despite the black eye and the busted lip. Things have got buried again, decidedly and quietly, beneath the Weinstein echos of #MeToo.

At a time when thousands are hashtagging their experiences of harassment and abuse, perhaps it’s all too easy to replace past events with new ones in order to keep up. I’ve been thinking a lot about memory this week – the things we endeavour to remember and the uncomfortable bits we choose to forget. Looking at Twitter this morning, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Hollywood was gaslighting us all – because, despite being told we’ve reached a “watershed moment” in the wake of Weinstein’s abuse, their posters are telling us a different story. And they’re defying their promises with a shrug.

When news of Johnny Depp’s title-role casting in the next Harry Potter prequel broke last year, the outcries were loud and clear. If you want to know what I first thought when I saw him casually posing on the new poster for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald this morning, it was a flashback to a People magazine cover that was published a year ago. Beside a headline that read “INSIDE THEIR TOXIC MARRIAGE” was a close-up headshot of Amber Heard’s bruised and cut face, taken by her friend after she alleges she was assaulted by her then-husband. Since seeing Heard’s lowered eye, red-ringed and swollen, everything changed. Her pain became mine, too. When faced with her ex-husband, that’s all I can see.

Looking at Twitter this morning, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Hollywood was gaslighting us all

As it happens, I am facing him with increasing regularity right now. I squirmed with disbelief and confusion, watching Graham Norton’s couch from my own – not at the crass jokes aimed at Kevin Spacey (in the wake of sexual-assault allegations dating back to the 1980s), but at the hypocrisy of a punchline that led so seamlessly into a raucous introduction to another accused abuser. The only difference is Depp pre-dates Weinstein and Spacey by 18 months and, in Hollywood, time is a great healer for the men it profits from.

“It’s been a week of sleaze,” Norton quipped with a strange kind of glee. “There have been so many allegations people’s careers are collapsing like a house of… dominoes.” Not Johnny Depp’s, it would appear, who was sat on Graham’s couch only minutes later – strangely pawing and fawning over Judi Dench as he quipped about filming Murder On The Orient Express. The cheers and laughter unsettled me – as did Kenneth Branagh’s admiring side glances. “Have we all forgotten?” I thought, watching on. Or did we never really believe her to begin with?

It’s worth noting that after People magazine published their Amber Heard exclusive, the couple settled their divorce and Heard withdrew her request for a restraining order. “Our relationship was intensely passionate and at times volatile, but always bound by love,” they both stated in a joint statement. “Neither party has lied nor made false accusations for financial gain. There was never any intent of physical or emotional harm.”

Despite the ambiguity of such a carefully worded statement, a line was quickly drawn and we all moved on to the next Hollywood scandal. As I write, Amber Heard is still being bombarded with questions over her divorce – and her sexuality; Johnny Depp continues to star in high-grossing films. Many reading this might say, in the absence of any conviction, this is the way it should be.

Over the last month, I’ve written a lot about who we believe – and who we disregard; I’ve been banging on a lot about who gets to speak and why. This morning, I’m repeating familiar question marks because I’m worried that, if we forget them right now, accountability might give way entirely and a strange kind of amnesia will take hold. The kind of amnesia that leads a talk-show host to wisecrack about one alleged abuse – and completely sidestep another.

@Madame_George

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Johnny Depp (Photo: Getty)
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