Yesterday, JK Rowling released a statement with regards to the casting of Johnny Depp in the title role of the new film, The Crimes of Grindelwald. The film, as part of the billion-pound Harry Potter franchise, is set to be a huge box-office success. But fans have been voicing their displeasure at Depp’s casting, given that he was accused of domestic abuse by his ex-wife Amber Heard.
Rowling, who’d remained unusually quiet on the matter given her often vocal presence on social media, spoke up about the issue in a piece shared yesterday. Despite defending Depp and the decision not to recast him, her statement ended: “We all have to do what we believe to be the right thing.” It reminded me of one of my favourite Dumbledore quotations, in which the wise headmaster talks about making a “choice between what is right, and what is easy”.
Rowling may believe she did what was right, but, as fans re-share a video of the actor being openly aggressive, smashing glasses dangerously near to his then-wife, and the haunting pictures of Heard’s bruised face, it’s hard to agree that Rowling has made the “right” choice, rather than the “easy” one.
Amber Heard has now shared the joint statement made by Depp and herself via her Instagram page with the note: “For the record, this was our FULL joint statement. To pick and choose certain lines and quote them out of context is just not right. Women, continue to stand up and stay strong. Love, Amber”. The statement she mentions describes her relationship with Depp as “volatile”, but adds that it was “always bound by love”. It adds: “Neither party has made false accusations for financial gains” and ends by stating that she is donating the financial proceeds from the divorce to charity.
But Heard’s temperate, magnanimous response is not an excuse to ignore Depp’s wrongdoing. We should allow Heard the distance that she so obviously wants and let her achieve the catharsis that comes with forgiveness. If we hold Depp to account, we leave her free to resolve and recover from the situation in the way that’s best for her. She has to navigate experiences of abuse alongside feelings of love, a task that the rest of us aren’t saddled with, no matter how much we enjoyed Sweeney Todd.
But David Yates, director of the new film, appears to have rewritten Heard’s story entirely. “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,” he said when asked about the allegations of domestic violence.
Yates’ comments, which in my opinion are disgusting in their phrasing (“took a pop” I found particularly distasteful) reflect a deep misunderstanding of abuse. One of the most difficult hurdles that sexual assault victims have had to face is that, often, their abuse leaves no mark, and they are forced, repeatedly, to try and explain why a sexual encounter wasn’t consensual. But the pictures of Heard are harder to discount, physical abuse leaves scars, and no one would argue that she created her own injuries, as they do with the victims of sexual assault.
Rowling and Yates’ failure to condemn Depp feels like just another insult to women in a society which continually disbelieves and minimises women’s testimonies about abuse.
The filmmakers, unable to say that there’s no evidence for Heard’s claim (a recourse that was so popular among those excusing accused sexual assailants) instead argue that the vision of Depp as a domestic abuser does not fit with their understanding of him as a charming actor. Rowling writes: “The filmmakers and I are … genuinely happy to have Johnny playing a major character”. Yates says that Heard’s account “doesn’t tally with the kind of human I’ve been working with”.
My generous perspective on this is that Rowling and Yates have been lucky enough not to witness or receive abuse. Anyone who has will know that its insidious presence relies on these very sorts of explanations, as abusers seek refuge in the good opinions of their friends and allies.
Meanwhile, behind closed doors, a story that can only be told through a single voice, surreptitious recordings and troubling photographs will never be broadcast to the world like a blockbuster film. Instead, it’ll be swept under the carpet and quickly forgotten.
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