Thursday, December 07, 2017

Can We Support Fantastic Beasts Without Victim Shaming?

Despite continuing the phenomenon of the Harry Potter universe, Fantastic Beasts hasn't had the smoothest rise to success. Sure, it's a box-office phenomenon and us Harry Potter fans enjoy the spin-off of Newt Scamander's adventures with his many magical creatures. However, one dark mark against the series by fans and critics has been the controversial casting of Johnny Depp as Gellert Grindelwald.

Back in 2016, as development for Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them was underway, actress and then-wife Amber Heard to Johnny Depp accused him of assault involving violent outbursts and filed for divorce. (Links maybe triggering for some: Variety. NY Daily News, and Jezebel offer full evidance of the complicated proceedings). At the time, fans and critics were stumped when Depp was later revealed to be playing one of the most prominent figures in wizarding world history. An uproar casually sparked about the casting prompted author J.K. Rowling and director David Yates to come to their own and his defense. Despite the controversy, the movie itself continued to become a success in theaters worldwide, with four subsequent films planned for release.

Fast forward one year, and the climate of movie-going and entertainment has fundamentally changed. In 2016, the accusations Heard made were tatter for tabloids to sensationalize and stir the gossip machine. Now, late into 2017, Hollywood has faced overwhelming accusations of sexual assault involving producers, directors, and actors which has shaken the industry to its core.

As new information about the second Fantastic Beasts was released in November 2017, Depp's reputation once again divided the fandom. Fans took to twitter for Warner Bros to remove Depp (they addressed their stance in December 2017) and replace him or supported the renowned actor either for his charitable contributions as a major star and his longterm career, filled with numerous beloved roles from Edward Scissorhands to Jack Sparrow.

The victims who spoke up, and millions of others joined the fiercely powerful #metoo movement, saw many of the predators promptly dealt with professionally. Actor Kevin Spacey was replaced by Christopher Plummer in the upcoming All The Money in the World and was fired from Netflix's House of Cards. Producer Harvey Weinstein was dismissed from his companies, expelled from the Motion Picture Academy, and faces several lawsuits. To name a few. But in the case of Depp's casting for the five-film franchise, his role as a wizard caught in the crosshairs with Albus Dumbledore (to be played by Jude Law) prominently continues.

In contrast to multiple victims who were silenced with ruined careers and financial blackmail through a manipulative exertion of control and power by Spacey and Weinstein, Depp has also only faced one incident. Friends, his daughter, and romantic partners have came forward to defend their positive experiences with the actor, and the incident between Heard and Depp - as far as the public knows - were rare.

As news of the sequel continues to spark controversy, lurking behind the fandom is something as sinister as dark magic itself: victim shaming Amber Heard in defense of Johnny Depp.

Surprisingly, within the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts fandom, sympathy towards Heard is not widely reflected. One only has to join a related community on Facebook or Twitter and any post about the controversy with Depp to see the comments echoing dangerous and damaging stereotypes such as: "she's a gold digger", "she faked the bruises she had", "her bruises were just make-up", and "lol'ing at the fact that she arrested too for the same hting" (This incident, often cited against Heard was denied by her partner).

Generations of Harry Potter readers gleam many different moral messages from her stories - to stand up against authority, to fight prejudice, to do what is right instead of easy.

At the center of the epic saga is a young boy who lived with abusive relatives. Before finding refuge in the wizarding community, he was forced to live in a cupboard under the stairs while his emotional, mental and physical well-being was disregarded. Other forms of abuse recur throughout the series from Professor Snape's indecent treatment towards his students, house elves who are enslaved to magical folks forced to injure themselves for going against their master's orders, to misfits Hagrid and Newt Scamander supporting and protecting magical creatures from mistreatment. This in turn has been the motivating factor for fans who have not supported the Fantastic Beasts franchise so far, citing that the casting of Depp contradicts key values the series was founded on: respect, equality, and tolerance.

Legally, and fundamentally, the divorce was finalized, and the parties released a joint statement saying: "Our relationship was intensely passionate and at times volatile, but always bound by love...Neither party has made false accusations for financial gains. There was never an intent of physical or emotional harm." Heard requested the divorce settlement of $7 million to be donated to the American Civil Liberties Union and the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. Heard nor Depp have issued statements over the controversy about his casting, and will likely not get involved as the finalization ceased public communication about the matter.

Ultimately, the case between Depp, Heard, and any legal standings is over. But, an abuse survivor's experiences should not be dismissed purely because it does not measure up to what we believe or have been taught by society to think about abusers or the accused, or what any of us only know from the sidelines. We all are far outside of the matter at hand, and many of judgement of what happened between the two should not further cause harm or perpetuate stereotypes about domestic violence.

Artists and celebrities are not perfect people, nor should we hold them up on a pedestal for their work. But that's often what we do as a society. Perhaps, for some, the ideas that someone in the public we know is not who we are thought they are, or that we refuse to let one person's actions tarnish a beloved artist's past and current work, are the emotional grassroots fans are facing in their defense of Depp. When it comes to characters and the actors who play them, we can judge for ourselves the validity of their guilt or innocence without victim shaming.

What comes now is the beliefs and actions we choose to stand for as a fandom community. Fans can support Depp's casting in the series without victim-shaming. Fans can boycott the spin-off to send a message to Warner Bros, David Yates, and J.K. Rowling. Or support Fantastic Beasts and use it to speak out further against domestic violence and abuse, raising awareness, and help local women's shelters or National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. We as the Harry Potter generation can do better.

For more information on domestic abuse or to get help for yourself/someone you love, visit the website for The National Domestic Violence Hotline or call 1-800-799-7233.

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