Johnny Depp
Johnny Depp as Gellert Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts And Where to Find Them (Photo: Fantastic Beasts)

OPINION

Johnny Depp’s career demonstrates his power, not "pure talent"

Fantastic Beasts 2 director David Yates has defended the continued casting of Johnny Depp because "pure talent" will out. Only if you’re a man, says Daisy Buchanan

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By Daisy Buchanan on

What do we know about Johnny Depp? When I hear his name, the facts that immediately spring to my mind are the details of his divorce settlement with his ex-wife Amber Heard, who accused him of “excessive emotional, verbal and physical abuse” during their time together – and the fact that she donated the $7 million she was awarded to charity, and that he sent it directly to the charities which shaved an estimated $3.5 million off his tax bill. Then I think about the films – the enormous hits of the nineties, the expensive disasters of the noughties and the fact that it’s so odd, to me, that he keeps getting cast in huge family franchises when his reputation seems so... shaky.

In my opinion, nothing I’ve seen him in lately offers compelling evidence of his talent, only compelling evidence that he needs to take any work available to him because he spends $30,000 a month on wine. Yet, the work is available, even though there are very few industries in which a worker would be hired repeatedly when their reputation was associated with violence, and when economically, most of their work offered nothing but diminishing returns. Kat Lister wrote “Since seeing Heard’s lowered eye, red-ringed and swollen… When faced with her ex-husband, that’s all I can see.” While Depp certainly isn’t the only actor to enjoy continued success after accusations of assault, it’s difficult to suspend your disbelief when you suspect the lead actor might be the biggest real-life baddie on screen. Variety writer Brent Lang theorises that Depp’s alleged violent behaviour isn’t just a moral issue – it may have put audiences off, and been responsible for the commercial failure of his film, Alice Through The Looking Glass.

Depp isn’t simply employed – he’s feted and celebrated, and Hollywood is populated by people who can't shut up about how sweet, kind and talented they believe him to be. 

When it comes to Heard and Depp, it’s one bruised woman’s word against one famous, beloved, well-defended multi-millionaire’s word

Now Fantastic Beasts director David Yates has defended his decision to cast Depp again, in the sequel to the 2016 film, saying  “one person… took a pop at him and claimed something”. The implication being that abused women are only worth listening to if there’s a group of them. When it comes to Heard and Depp, it’s one bruised woman’s word against one famous, beloved, well-defended multi-millionaire’s word. Last year, when Depp was cast in the project, Yates made the following comments on Depp. “You’re brilliant one week, people are saying odd things the next, you go up and down. But no one takes away your pure talent.”

There’s an unspoken end to that sentence. “No one takes away your pure talent, unless you’re a woman.” If you’re a woman, people are constantly trying to take your talent from you. They’ll crush it, they will try to take away any platform that you might have to promote and explore it, or they refine and package it in a way that they can profit from, that leaves you compromised. Every time a woman tells her story and we say we don’t believe her, we’re telling millions of women that they don’t have a right to live out loud, and that if they do want to take their life into their hands and try to use their talents, they will become vulnerable the very moment they become visible.

Following the flood of allegations against some of the most powerful men in Hollywood, CNN reporter Dylan Byers tweeted his concern about the “talent drain” that would happen in the creative industry, as so many predatory men were being forced to leave it.  Yet, for hundreds of years, the arts have suffered from a different kind of talent drain. Millions of brilliant women have been denied creative chances because they haven’t been supported, they haven’t been encouraged and their work environment has been made so toxic by men who have claimed their “pure talent” excuses their behaviour.

In Claire Dederer’s brilliant essay  "What do we do with the art of monstrous men?" she explores the way that men have historically been indulged and encouraged in the most heinous behaviours in order to pursue art, but the line is drawn in a different place for women. We’re held to different standards, condemned for small acts of selfishness, for even briefly abandoning our families in order to pursue our creative dreams. When comedy fans mourned the end of Louis CK’s career, I thought about the great careers that didn’t have the chance to get off the ground. Julia Lea Wolov and Dana Min Goodman have talked about the way that people in the comedy industry, particularly manager Dave Becky, blocked their paths and deterred them from taking career-boosting opportunities in order to support the man who had abused them.

Even before the #MeToo movement got underway, we’ve been asking whether it’s possible to reconcile a problematic creator with their brilliant work. Is it possible to separate the artist from the art? However, I suspect that’s the wrong question for 2017. We need to start asking how to create space for talented people whose work is suppressed by other artists, who aren’t necessarily more talented, just richer, louder and more powerful. If you call yourself an artist, you have a responsibility to understand humanity. If you’re guilty of dehumanising women, you can’t hide behind your art – and it’s time to start questioning your “pure talent”.

@NotRollergirl

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Johnny Depp as Gellert Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts And Where to Find Them (Photo: Fantastic Beasts)
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domestic violence
Sexism in the media
Daisy Buchanan

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