Integrity, loyalty, empathy, compassion. These are some of the moral components of lessons learned throughout Harry Potter. The novels have taught their readers lessons in being good people, in standing up for what they believe in, for fighting for what is right and raising your voice to do so. That is why when J.K. Rowling did not raise her own voice in light of the casting within the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them films, something seemed off.
J.K. Rowling is a fantastic writer and has been a triumphant voice against hatred, in favor of feminism and equality. However, her support of Johnny Depp as Gellert Grindelwald makes her commitment to those beliefs questionable.
Trigger Warning: Discussion of abuse
For those unaware of why Rowling might feel the need to object: in 2016, Amber Heard, Depp’s then-wife, filed for a restraining order due to allegations of abuse. Heard pressed charges against her husband and provided hard evidence of the abuse including photos, text message records and witnesses to some of the incidents. She eventually settled with Depp out of court and donated the money to the ACLU and the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. Depp, despite the evidence against him, continues to deny these claims.
Why is this even important? Why does anyone care that an actor who is just doing his job, did terrible things to his wife? Is it because he should have to pay for what he did? Maybe. And probably. But it’s more than that. When people like actors, musicians, and other public figures get away with doing something like abusing someone, sexual harassment and/or sexual abuse, it sends a message that there are no consequences for their actions. It shows their victims that what they did was okay. How can a victim recognize the severity of their abuse if the abusers they see in the public eye are not even slightly penalized for what they have done? It creates a public space for abusers and forces their victims into hiding. Something J.K. Rowling has been a long time advocate against.
Just recently, Rowling went on Twitter and penned a 14 tweet length chain against someone for their comments on British Prime Minister Theresa May, where she wrote “I’m sick of ‘liberal’ men whose mask slips every time a woman displeases them, who reach immediately for crude and humiliating words associated with femaleness, act like old school misogynists and then preen themselves as though they’ve been brave. When you do this, Mr Liberal Cool Guy, you ally yourself wittingly or not, with the men who send women violent pornographic images and rape threats, who try by every means possible to intimidate women out of politics and public spaces, both real and digital…” She continued on this defense in chain that went viral almost immediately. She seemed to be speaking out against making women feel unsafe in public spaces. People applauded Rowling for her thoughts but it is clear that these are not beliefs she would stand behind.
In terms of the casting of Depp in the film, Rowling has remained mostly silent but she has shared her support of it. Her only comment was “I’m delighted. He’s done incredible things with that character.” By supporting Depp and the choice to cast him, she is also supporting statements like those given by the film’s director, David Yates: “It’s a weird old business. 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.” Odd things? Is it odd when pictures, text messages, and first person narratives are released proving a man is guilty of abusing his wife? Does it not matter as long as he’s talented?
What is clear in all of this, is that the people who are responsible for creating and continuing the world of Harry Potter, are also creating and continuing a safe space for abuse and while many people are outraged, the vast majority is willing to look past it. The films will still break records in the theater and the franchise will continue to make money because people don’t care or they will try not to think about it. Why wouldn’t they when the person they look to for her morals, beliefs, her commitment to change, stays silent? Depp will use Rowling’s story to continue to be relevant and to brush what he did under the rug and Rowling stays silent.