Any hope that Johnny Depp would not return as the central villain in the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them sequel was dashed on Thursday, after Warner Bros. revealed the first cast photo for what we now know will be called Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.
Depp’s inclusion in the Harry Potter prequel franchise was revealed at the end of the first movie, when Colin Farrell’s Gellert Grindelwald was unmasked and replaced by Depp. While Depp had only two lines, the twist left some wondering why the studio would cast the actor, after his ex-wife, Amber Heard, accused him of domestic assault. Photos surfaced in 2015 of a bruised Heard with a bloody lip, where she says “she feared for her life” after a fight with Depp.
In response to the backlash, executive producer David Heyman skirted around the issue by listing off Depp’s skills as an actor. Director David Yates and J.K. Rowling didn’t even address the accusations against Depp directly, and also invoked his considerable pedigree and his box office power to justify a choice that many fans found inexplicable.
Now—as Hollywood continues to grapple with the wave of sexual assault allegations that’s been levied against some of its most influential figures—it’s hard to imagine that those responses would be sufficient. In this current climate—where victims of abuse are coming forward every day—Warner Bros.’ decision to make Depp the centerpiece of the next four films in its most crucial franchise feels especially tone-deaf.
Fans of the Potterverse are fiercely loyal, so it speaks volumes that on what should have been a joyous occasion, many of them took to Twitter to express their outrage over Depp’s involvement in the Fantastic Beasts sequel. But it’s easy to see where the anger is coming from. Depp stands accused of physically and verbally abusing Heard throughout their 15-month marriage. He allegedly threw a phone at her head, pulled her hair and grabbed her face. A video emerged of a drunken Depp berating Heard. The pair ultimately released a joint statement in which Heard wished Depp well. She donated her $7 million she won in the divorce lawsuit to the American Civil Liberties Union, and they both moved on.
But despite all that evidence, Depp’s career never took a hit. He released another Pirates of the Caribbean movie that did relatively well at the box office. We’ll see him in at least six more films before the Fantastic Beasts sequel even hits theaters.
Given the breakneck speed at which the careers of Kevin Spacey and Louis CK were declared over, we have to wonder why Depp has managed to emerge virtually unscathed. Even Mel Gibson—accused of similar behavior by women—was only allowed to resume his career after years in exile.
One could argue that Depp is so valuable as a commodity, that studios and filmmakers are willing to give him a pass if it means strengthening their bottom line. After all, Republicans completely ignored the allegations against Trump if it meant winning the White House, and Casey Affleck schmoozed his way to a Best Actor Oscar last year, despite his checkered past.
It’s impossible to say whether or not these men would have been held accountable for their actions had these allegations surfaced post-Weinstein. Unless a new accusation against Depp surfaces, Warner Bros. isn’t going to replace him because of his star power. But moviegoers have power, too. Whether or not they choose to wield it in protest when Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald hits theaters in November of next year is up to fans.