Last autumn was revelatory about the widespread nature of sexism and sexual harassment in Hollywood. Beginning with numerous allegations about Harvey Weinstein, victims came forward in hoards to share their stories of sexual harassment within the acting industry and, surprisingly, these people were heard. Numerous men faced the consequences of their actions; Harvey Weinstein was universally criticised and films currently in production from his company were stalled, whilst a film starring Kevin Spacey was sent back to the studio to be reshot with a new lead actor. It seems a world away from the way Hollywood, and its audience, have treated abusers before. And yet, on the same day that I read an article about one of the accusations following the scandal, I went to the cinema to see a blockbuster in which Johnny Depp, a man accused of abusing his ex-wife, plays a major role. Hollywood may be keen to seem progressive with this particular scandal but it is still eager to ignore the crimes of men who have been accused in the past in the name of ‘talent’ and ‘genius.’
The hypocrisy of this is clear, but it is also troubling. We want to believe that the Harvey Weinstein scandal is ushering in a new progressive era in which the power dynamics of Hollywood are being overturned and the safety and respect of young actors and actresses are being prioritized. Instead, it seems that there will always be exceptions; Hollywood will blacklist actors if, by doing so, they can avoid scandal. But, when the world is not adamantly demanding action, directors seem to want to ignore things as much as possible in order to further their own art.
In defense of his casting of Johnny Depp in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, David Yates said, ‘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.’ Whilst Yates prefaces his defense with his opinion on the Weinstein scandal in an attempt emphasize his own goodness and lack of misogyny, the reasons he chooses to ignore the accusation about Depp reveal why this scandal is likely to have limited effects and why we should not easily believe that Hollywood has changed.
It could be argued that all accused should be ‘innocent until proven guilty’ but, in the cases of both Depp and Woody Allen, there is enough evidence to suggest that these men should no longer be such huge icons within such a prominent industry, especially as Depp is not just cast in films, but in blockbusters and children’s films, making him unavoidable. Furthermore, in the same way as sexual assault or harassment, you only have to hit one woman to be an abuser. Weinstein may have a long list of abuse, but if his first victim had come forward, she could surely have been accused of being a solitary victim ‘taking a pop’ at him. If we refuse to believe singular accounts, we are allowing men to strike again, and we are setting a precedent of what we are prepared to accept.
Johnny Depp, Woody Allen and multiple other men in Hollywood are abusers. Whether or not they are geniuses is irrelevant, and by prioritizing genius over the claims of women, Hollywood makes it clear that their views towards harassment and abuse will always have exceptions. It could be because their victims do not come forward at a particular moment, or because the accusers are successful and respected, but, regardless of the excuses, we have to challenge them. We, as a society, have to refuse to let Hollywood move on from the Weinstein scandal without real and permanent change because directors, actors and other prominent people in the industry have already demonstrated their desire to sweep abuse under the carpet.