J.K. Rowling is a known social justice warrior. Not only have her books touted lessons that have taught a generation of kids to be better people (according to a 2014 study in the Journal of Applied Psychology), but her active role on Twitter tends to involve calling out hypocrisy, injustice, and other wrongdoings by those in power. She has been incredibly, admirably charitable, and her speeches have been inspirational. Indeed, J.K. Rowling has established herself as a brand that inspires youngsters with the message that anything is possible if you try hard enough, and that being and doing good can go hand in hand with success. Which is why Johnny Depp ought to be ousted from The Crimes of Grindelwald.
I understand that replacing Johnny Depp in a movie where he is the title character is an expensive proposition. I understand that Johnny Depp is a highly talented actor that likely earned his role because of the quality of characterization he could bring into the highly successful franchise. However. The franchise—the entire J.K. Rowling universe—is built on a moral foundation. Choosing good over evil is the deep-seated message throughout every book, movie, screenplay, and script. Yes, Rowling allowed for degrees of good: Sirius Black was the non-Dark white sheep of a wizard in his otherwise Voldemort-leaning family, but was cruel to Kreacher; Snape was… Snape; and even Dumbledore, the greatest wizard, had hidden the truth from Harry as he led him to his inevitable showdown. Even Harry goes through a dark period when he mistrusts his friends, behaves badly, but remains ultimately inherently good.
But that’s fiction. These are lines that are necessarily blurry, and the power of fiction is that it allows characters to be complex, and for readers to “choose sides” and then be presented with the “right” answer. The Harry Potter series is full of moral messages, showing readers how to treat marginalized people with compassion, understanding, and inclusion.
So that brings us to Johnny Depp. This article talks about how Depp’s domestic abuse allegations are being swept under the table, whereas he publicly apologized for a tasteless assassination joke.
Now, I’m not arguing that the joke was no big deal, or that there’s even any room for comparison, as if we are forced to make a choice. It’s perfectly okay for you to be outraged by both. It’s fine to dismiss the joke as harmless because they’re just words, whereas domestic abuse has greater, more sinister implications. You can even decide to withhold judgment about the abuse because “there’s no proof” (except that there is). You are free to hold whatever opinion you like of Johnny Depp.
However. J.K. Rowling’s entire business model is built on a foundation of morality. And the consumers of her products, being raised to be “better people,” have been taught—by her in many cases—that we must treat others kindly. Lucius Malfoy was obviously evil because he mistreated Dobby (well, that and because he was a Death Eater). And however much Harry loved Sirius, he was not to overlook the fact that he was downright cruel to Kreacher.
As Dumbledore reminds Harry, we are responsible for our actions, and we must be held accountable for them. By that same logic, it seems highly inappropriate to overlook disturbing allegations about Johnny Depp. Because while he may be a talented actor, a movie exploring the crimes of a dangerous yet talented wizard may seem a little too surreal.
Part of the problem, of course, is that we know nothing of the story. All we have for now are hints and speculation, and we Potterheads have been anxiously awaiting the movie for the fulfillment of our curiosities’ desires. Only, without any concrete plot information, and only a few crumbs offered to pique our interest, we can focus only on the cast.
Sadly, by casting Johnny Depp as Grindelwald, and making this a means to financially benefit him, watching The Crimes of Grindelwald starring Johnny Depp becomes a moral decision. And for the large audience whose morality has been shaped by J.K. Rowling’s stories, that seems a risky business decision by the powers that be.