Fantastic Beasts and How to Hold Them Accountable

In light of the many recent allegations against abusive men in Hollywood and the shifting culture of accountability, one man somehow remains exempt. Johnny Depp, accused of verbal and physical abuse by his ex-wife Amber Heard over a year ago, maintains his titular role in the next Fantastic Beasts film.

Content warning: Let’s briefly recap the atrocities Depp put Heard through, and the disdain she faced from society at large, despite being the “perfect victim.”

  • Heard’s domestic violence allegations span at least two years, starting in 2014
  • Depp repeatedly verbally and physically abused Heard throughout their relationship, until she filed for both a restraining order and a divorce in May 2016
  • This abuse included Depp cutting off a part of his finger and then using the blood to finger paint “Easy Amber” onto a mirror (in addition to kicking her and throwing things at her that left visible bruises)
  • The press responded by portraying Heard as a gold-digger, liar, and slut
  • Defenders of Depp claimed she had insufficient evidence and just wanted his money (despite her status as a very wealthy actress)
  • The facts: she did provide sufficient evidence, in the form of photographs & witness testimonies & text messages
  • She went to the police with visible bruises on her face
  • She donated every cent of the money she earned from the settlement. Every cent.

Constance Grady summed up Heard’s situation adeptly: “Our treatment of Heard proves that it doesn’t really matter how women act when they accuse men of hurting them. We don’t really care. We’ll find a way to call them liars no matter what they do.”

Flash forward to November 28, 2017. Director of the Fantastic Beasts movies and several Harry Potter films, David Yates, had the audacity to come forward and defend Depp. After many fans made it very clear that we want Depp replaced in the upcoming film, Yates finally responded to the controversy. Here’s part of his statement:

“Honestly, there’s an issue at the moment where there’s a lot of people being accused of things, they’re being accused by multiple victims, and it’s compelling and frightening,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “With Johnny, it seems to me there was one person who took a pop at him and claimed something. I can only tell you about the man I see every day: He’s full of decency and kindness, and that’s all I see. Whatever accusation was out there doesn’t tally with the kind of human being I’ve been working with.”

So let’s break this down. Yates is essentially saying that because he does not view Depp as someone capable of abuse, Heard’s story must not be true. He describes Heard as “one person who took a pop at him,” which is not only a disgusting turn of phrase but also minimizes the horrific trauma Heard endured. And of course, there’s the underlying assumptions that because he hasn’t seen it and it hasn’t happened to him, it simply did not happen. He goes on to quote several of Depp’s exes who have defended him, as if that in any way proves that Heard’s allegations are not true. Not abusing a former partner in no way invalidates the potential to abuse a partner in the future. That’s like saying Depp didn’t drink hot chocolate this one time, so he must never drink hot chocolate.

I have been upset about the casting of Depp in the franchise since I was shocked by his face on the big screen at the end of Fantastic Beasts. The movie I had so been looking forward to seeing turned into a nightmare. The movie whose plot condemned child abuse included in its cast a domestic abuser. I could hardly believe it, and held out hope that surely JK Rowling would not allow this to continue. Perhaps most disappointing of all, she has remained silent as her fans beseech her to remove him from the films.

The Harry Potter series is, for so many of us, a safe space. A place where abusers are held accountable and social justice is embedded in the pages of the story. JK Rowling writes about the abuse Harry suffers at the hands of his aunt and uncle and explores the long-lasting effects of trauma. She has been a vocal supporter of women’s rights, never shy about her political beliefs. That she would allow Johnny Depp to enter the Harry Potter universe, this wonderful world she has created, is unconscionable.

Yates’ comments feel like the final nail in the coffin. This world that I love so much for so many reasons is no longer a place for survivors. Yates has made that clear. As Anne Cohen writes, “He’s choosing to ignore substantial allegations against an actor who will be holding a major role in a major movie franchise. He’s choosing to send a message to the men and women who love this franchise and what it stands for that their opinions don’t matter.”

I remain hopeful that JK Rowling will listen to her fans and speak out against Depp, because I have to believe it. In the meantime, I will continue to divest from Depp, who should no longer have a career. To anyone who cares about violence against women (which should be everyone), I implore you, along with all of my fellow Potter fans, to keep putting pressure on Warner Brothers and Rowling to hold Depp accountable and call him what he is: an abuser.

“We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” -Albus Dumbledore


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