How can JK Rowling be 'genuinely happy' with casting Johnny Depp in sequel to Fantastic Beasts?

Karishma Upadhyay

Dec 12, 2017 12:21:07 IST

Last week, JK Rowling wrote on her website why she not just supports but is ‘genuinely happy’ with the casting of Johnny Depp as Gellert Grindelwald in The Crimes of Grindelwald. The film is the sequel to last year’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and a part of the mega successful Harry Potter franchise. Depp plays the much-feared dark wizard, who appeared briefly in the Harry Potter franchise, and was a friend-turned-foe of Albus Dumbledore.

Depp’s casting is controversial because of the domestic violence claims made by his ex-wife Amber Heard.

The actress accused the Pirates of the Caribbean actor of emotional and physical abuse during their divorce proceedings in May 2016. Fans have been questioning why the domestic violence allegation didn’t cost Depp’s job since he was first seen a cameo as Grindelwald in Nov 2016. In the second film, that’s due for a Nov 2018 release, he has the title role, and will presumably continue to be a part of the three future Fantastic Beasts films.

Johnny Depp as Gellert Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts 2: Image via Facebook

Johnny Depp as Gellert Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts 2: Image via Facebook

The Depp controversy picked up steam once more when Warner Bros., the studio behind the franchise, released the first cast photo and the name of the next installment in last month. Rowling, who is normally very vocal on social media about supporting women’s empowerment and calling out bullying and sexual harassment, was quiet even as fans tweeted to her about Depp’s casting.

In the statement published on Dec 7, the 52-year-old author wrote that she is not able to speak frankly about the issue because of ‘the agreements that have been put in place to protect the privacy of two people”. She did, though, give the casting her approval. “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 ended her statement with, “We all have to do what we believe to be the right thing”. Only in this case, the ‘right thing’ would have been to not publically support a man who is a known abuser.

Barely 15 months after they got married, Heard filed for a restraining order against 52-year-old Depp. The actress alleged, “Johnny has been verbally and physically abusive to me” and claimed that there were times when she feared for her life. As evidence she submitted photographs of injuries (including bruises on her face), texts detailing physical abuse and photographs implying that Depp allegedly cut off a part of his finger to spite her. There is also a leaked video, obtained by TMZ in August last year, that shows Depp slamming kitchen cabinets, screaming, and calling Heard crazy. He appears to throw and shatter a glass and wine bottle before grabbing her phone.

Soon after, the exes settled the divorce case and Heard retracted her petition for a retraining order. In a joint statement, the former couple said, “Our relationship was intensely passionate and at times volatile, but always bound by love. Neither party has lied nor made false accusations for financial gain. There was never any intent of physical or emotional harm. Amber wishes the best for Johnny in the future. Amber will be donating financial proceeds from the divorce to a charity. There will be no further public statements about this matter.”

At the time, Heard first came forward with the accusations; she was immediately called a liar by Depp’s very vocal supporters and by the media. In the pre-Weinstein era, even when victims of abuse showed physical evidence of the said abuse, the society was quick to fallback on the gold-digging, fame-seeking prototype. Forget acknowledging a victim’s pain, even believing the abuse was a huge problem a year ago.

One hoped that the #MeToo movement and the renewed cultural conversation about violence against women would have encouraged one of the world’s most famous women and a self-made billionaire to not protect a powerful abuser. As the writer and producer of the Fantastic Beasts films, Rowling would have a say in the casting.

Ridley Scott reshot a whole film after replacing Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer in two weeks; it would have been possible to recast Depp but the powers-that-be decided not to.

Abuse has been a recurring theme in Rowling’s works. The Dursleys’ confined Harry to a cupboard under the stairs, he was starved and berated daily. Sirius Black, Severus Snape and Tom Riddle have all suffered different degrees of verbal and physical abuse in their childhood. In Fantastic Beasts, his adopted mother frequently beats young wizard Credence Barebone.

In The Casual Vacancy, her first book after Harry Potter, Rowling wrote a supporting character called Andrew, a teen who lives with his abusive father. In an interview to The New Yorker, the notoriously private novelist admitted that she identified with the character. While she insisted that “no one in The Causal Vacancy is a portrait of any living person, Rowling also said, “I did not have an easy relationship with my father”.

JK Rowling found herself in the midst of a cultural appropriation controversy when she borrowed from Native American folklore for her 'Magic in North America' series. AP/File photo

JK Rowling. AP/File photo

It has been rumoured for years that Rowling’s first marriage to Jorge Arantes, a Portuguese journalism student, three years her junior, was abusive. While she has never publically spoken about the extent of the violence she endured, Arantes in an interview admitted to slapping her “very hard” and throwing her out of their home in the morning of Nov 17, 1993.

Rowling is someone who understands, and has probably experienced, domestic violence of some kind. But her statement about Depp’s casting is yet another example of a woman’s complaint being swept aside in favour of a popular and powerful man.

In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Rowling wrote, “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it”. Her words, last week, took a little sheen off her magic.

Updated Date: Dec 12, 2017 12:21:07 IST