For many Harry Potter fans, the world of the boy wizard represents a safe space, a place where people stand up against injustice and call out abuses of power. This is why the casting of Johnny Depp, an alleged domestic abuser, as Grindelwald in the Fantastic Beasts film franchise, has upset so many.
Rowling’s previous lack of response to the concerns, which first surfaced following Depp’s surprise cameo in the first Fantastic Beasts film, as well as her policy of blocking Twitter users who asked her about it via the social media platform, has been unacceptable to many Harry Potter fans.
As promotional material for the Fantastic Beasts sequel — the supremely awkwardly subtitled The Crimes of Grindelwald— has begun to be released, Rowling has broken her silence on the issue. The Harry Potter author and screenwriter of the Fantastic Beasts films released a short statement via her own website last December back on the subject of Depp’s casting or lack of recasting following ex-wife Amber Heard’s accusations of Depp’s physically and emotionally-abusive behavior.
While Rowling said “around the time of filming his cameo in the first movie, stories [about Depp] had appeared in the press that deeply concerned me and everyone most closely involved in the franchise” and “I understand why some have been confused and angry about why that didn’t happen,” she ultimately defended the casting of Depp.
Rowling implies that she is not able to talk about the issue as honestly as she might want to, saying:
For me personally, the inability to speak openly to fans about this issue has been difficult, frustrating and at times painful. However, the agreements that have been put in place to protect the privacy of two people, both of whom have expressed a desire to get on with their lives, must be respected. Based on our understanding of the circumstances, the filmmakers and I are not only comfortable sticking with our original casting, but genuinely happy to have Johnny playing a major character in the movies.
Previously, Fantastic Beasts director David Yates also defended Depp’s casting in an interview with EW, saying:
Honestly, there’s an issue at the moment where there’s a lot of people being accused of things, they’re being accused by multiple victims, and it’s compelling and frightening. With Johnny, it seems to me there was one person who took a pop at him and claimed something. I can only tell you about the man I see every day: He’s full of decency and kindness, and that’s all I see. Whatever accusation was out there doesn’t tally with the kind of human being I’ve been working with.
There are some dangerous patterns at play in both Yates and Rowling’s responses: calling into question Heard’s claims of abuse, using examples of healthy relationships in Depp’s life to defend accusations of his abusive behavior, and just generally placing the career of a male abuser over the safety and mental health of a female survivor.
J.K. Rowling is a politically-progressive creator known for writing a story about what happens when those in power abuse it or don’t use it to stand up for those of us who are most vunerable. Viewed through this lens, Rowling’s response here is incredibly disappointing, at least to this Harry Potter fan.