At this point, Johnny Depp is only one of the ethical/PR issues the Fantastic Beasts franchise has, but he is apparently the easiest one to address. Depp has been “asked to resign” from the Harry Potter prequel series, according to the actor’s recent Instagram post. Though neither Depp nor Warner Bros. has given a specific reason for the actor’s departure, it comes just days after a U.K. court’s ruling that British tabloid The Sun was not committing libel when they described Depp as “a wife-beater” in 2018.
“Johnny Depp will depart the Fantastic Beasts franchise. We thank Johnny for his work on the films to date,” Warner Bros. said in a statement (via Variety). “Fantastic Beasts 3 is currently in production, and the role of Gellert Grindelwald will be recast. The film will debut in theaters worldwide in the summer of 2022.”
For some, this forced resignation is a long time coming. Depp’s involvement as Grindelwald in the first Fantastic Beasts film was not only minimal but was impressively kept a secret prior to the release of the film. Prior to the production of the second film in the franchise (the awkwardly titled The Crimes of Grindelwald), however, many fans used Twitter to ask J.K. Rowling to recast the role of Grindelwald following Amber Heard’s accusations of Depp’s physically and emotionally abusive behavior. Rowling adopted a policy of blocking fans who challenged her on the casting and eventually released a short statement via her own website defending the choice to include Depp in the sequel.
“Based on our understanding of the circumstances,” Rowling wrote in December 2017, “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.” Apparently, that has since changed.
While Depp’s departure from the Fantastic Beasts franchise is a step in the right direction when it comes to addressing the ethical and PR issues of this major franchise, there are still at least a few other elephants in the room: Let’s start with J.K. Rowling. Rowling, who is both the Fantastic Beasts screenwriter and a producer on the films, has burned a lot of fandom bridges in the last year as a result of her increasingly vehement anti-trans comments on social media. If Warner Bros. did want to further distance itself from Rowling, it’s unclear what that would look like and what it might mean for the canonical future of the Potter-verse. Rowling clearly has a lot of power when it comes to the lucrative Potter brand, and she doesn’t seem poised to willingly give up creative or financial control anytime soon.
The other other elephant in the room? Ezra Miller, who appears as Credence Barebone in the Fantastic Beasts franchise. Miller made news back in April when a video surfaced in which Miller appears to be choking a woman. The incident took place at a bar in Reykjavik, Iceland. Neither Miller or Warner Bros. has publicly addressed the video, but Miller did appear at the DC Fandome event to promote The Flash for Warner Bros. back in August. Miller is expected to appear in Fantastic Beasts 3.
While the timing of Depp’s resignation suggests that Warner Bros. is responding to the U.K. court ruling, the connection between WB asking Depp to resign and a court ruling that it is not inaccurate to describe Depp as “a wife-beater” has not been made explicit. That being said, the move is a relatively surprising one for the major Hollywood studio, which is part of a larger industry that routinely ignores major ethical concerns around some of its highest-paid directors, executives, and stars. Could the forced departure of Depp be a precedent-setting example of things to come or is it just a fluke in the Hollywood tale of profit over people?