The Harry Potter series took the world by-storm when the first book was released in 1997. It has since spawned eight films, plenty of merchandise, online fan communities, a highly successful West End play and JK Rowling’s spin-off franchise: Fantastic Beats and Where to Find Them. The first film of the franchise was released in late 2016 and it was, as the name espouses, fantastic.
There was only one issue with the film: Johnny Depp. He was cast in the role of the infamous dark wizard Grindelwald, which was discovered when the character shed his disguise (played by Colin Farrell) and revealed himself. Many were extremely dismayed by Depp’s presence in the film, following allegations of domestic abuse against his ex-wife Amber Heard. Heard was granted a restraining order against Depp during their high-profile divorce in 2016 as she claimed that “during the entirety of our relationship, Johnny has been verbally and physically abusive to me.”
The next instalment in the franchise, titled The Crimes of Grindelwald, is set to be released in late 2018. With the extensive media attention the film has received recently, as a result of its release date and name being confirmed, Johnny Depp’s casting has garnered even more controversy. As the film title mentions Depp’s character Grindelwald, it can only be assumed that the Depp will get a lot of screen-time.
A fan tweeted about the firing of Jamie Waylett, who originally played Crabbe, for possession of marijuana, calling Rowling out for allowing an actor to be fired over a minor drug charge while Depp was given a major role despite allegations of domestic abuse. This led to Rowling and Fantastic Beasts director David Yates both defending Depp with a public statement. Yates stated that Depp was “full of decency and kindness” and that Heard’s accusations don’t “tally with the kind of human being [he’s] been working with.” Rowling meanwhile released her statement on her official website and stated that despite concerns over the situation, they would not be recasting Grindelwald. She said that “based on our understanding of the circumstances, the filmmakers and I are not only comfortable sticking with our original casting, but genuinely happy to have Johnny playing a major character in the movies”.
Rowling has long since been an advocate for feminist issues and has often used her Twitter platform to speak up about sexual harassment, assault, and misogyny in everyday life, and her attitude towards Heard’s accusations doesn’t seem fitting for her personal brand.
Many fans were very upset with Rowling and Yates’ response and there was a vocal discussion about the subject on social media. Several used the original Harry Potter books to bring attention to the irony surrounding Depp’s casting, particularly as Harry Potter was a victim of abuse and the story is about rising up against oppression and an abuse of power.
The fact that Rowling and Warner Bros. had considered recasting but decided not to also did not sit well amongst those on Twitter. Actor and producer Norman D. Golden II, who tweeted that the production still had time to recast if they chose to, as filming was not yet completed, adding that this was “not a good look post-Weinstein”, particularly after Ridley Scott recast Chris Plummer in Kevin Spacey’s role in All the Money in the World, a film that had already finished filming.
In favour of full transparency, it must be said that Depp was never convicted of abuse and Heard settled her domestic abuse case with him for USD$7 million. However, since then, one of Depp’s previous managers, Joel Mandel, and a mutual friend of the couple, iO Tillet Wight, have come forward to confirm that they were aware of incidences of domestic abuse. In addition, there are videos and court documents that also confirm these statements and Heard’s allegations.
With the confirmation of others as well as video evidence, how can Yates and Rowling continue to defend the casting of a known abuser by citing his “decency and kindness” on set? Harry Potter is a franchise that is near and dear to many people and having Depp cast in a major role is extremely heartbreaking and disrespectful to survivors of abuse. It sends a clear message. Sure, step forward and report what’s happened to you but, it won’t matter in the end, the abuser will still win – whether it be acclaim or fortune. Wasn’t that the whole point of Harry Potter though – fight the good fight and the abuser will lose? I guess not, JK.