The wave of abuse allegations against men in Hollywood has already made several celebrities into industry pariahs. It has not affected every man ever publicly accused of abuse, however. One of them is the centerpiece of the next Harry Potter movie.
Warner Bros. announced today that the next film in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter cinematic universe, a sequel to 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, will be called Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. The studio also released the first photo of the cast, which includes actor Johnny Depp in the title role, playing the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald.
Though the casting of Depp has been known for some time (he appeared briefly in the first film), today’s title announcement and photo have led many fans to question Depp’s prominent role in the film and its marketing, given allegations that he physically abused his ex-wife, actress Amber Heard, while they were together.
In 2016 court filings, Heard alleged that Depp had been physically and emotionally abusive for the entirety of their four-year relationship. She detailed numerous specific incidents, including times Depp allegedly shoved her to the floor, threw a cell phone at her head, pulled her hair, and struck her. The couple’s friend, photographer iO Tillett Wright, claimed that on one occasion Heard called him over to their home, where he saw the actress’s pillow covered in blood.
In May of that year, Heard was granted a restraining order from Depp. A month later, People magazine published photos of Heard with bruises on her face and a cut lip. The couple settled their divorce in August of 2016, and Heard withdrew her request for a restraining order. “Our relationship was intensely passionate and at times volatile, but always bound by love,” Heard and Depp said in a joint statement at the time. “Neither party has lied nor made false accusations for financial gain. There was never any intent of physical or emotional harm.”
Since the Fantastic Beasts announcement, there have been a number of tweets like this one, criticizing the involvement of Depp and calling for him to be replaced:
Depp’s central role in the marketing of the film is especially confounding given that the film’s screenwriter—and architect of the Harry Potter universe—J.K. Rowling, is often outspoken about issues of this nature and has in recent days retweeted several people discussing abuse by men against women. Last year, two months before Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them hit theaters, Rowling tweeted a video specifically about domestic violence:
A publicist for Rowling told Quartz that the author was not available for comment on the conversation surrounding Depp’s involvement. Rowling did not immediately respond to a message on Twitter.
It’s also puzzling that Warner Bros. was willing to stake its franchise on a star with such skeletons in his closet. Perhaps it’s because the allegations against him have already played out in various media cycles, or because Heard’s accusations were not sexual in nature, or because the former couple seemed to have ultimately settled things amicably. Regardless, one thing is clear: Depp’s career has not been damaged by the allegations of domestic brutality.
Still, Warner Bros. is taking a bit of a gamble in hoping the controversy around Depp doesn’t eventually explode. We live in an age where one comedian’s comments can bring a long-delayed reckoning to a beloved figure like Bill Cosby. Similarly, the ugly allegations of sexual assault and harassment against Harvey Weinstein had been out there for years before a New York Times exposé dragged them into the public eye and started a national conversation. Since then, powerful men from actor Kevin Spacey to Amazon Studios head Roy Price to comedian Louis C.K. have seen their Hollywood careers derailed by abuse allegations. If Depp’s involvement ends up hurting the film, studios could decide to avoid controversial figures altogether, no matter how big of a star they might be.
Fantastic Beasts producer David Heyman defended the casting of Depp last year, calling the Edward Scissorhands and Pirates of the Caribbean actor “iconic.” Addressing the allegations of domestic abuse, Heyman told Entertainment Weekly, “Here’s the thing: Misogyny, abuse, maltreatment of people is unacceptable—but none of us know what happened in that room,” he said. “So I think it would be unfair for me to be judge and jury, or for any of us to be judge and jury.”