See No Evil: The Legitimisation of Violence Against Women in Hollywood

Harry Leonard | 23 January 2017.

{Warning: discussions of domestic and sexual assault}

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Nate Parker (left) and Johnny Depp (right)

On 28 May 2016, Amber Heard was granted a temporary restraining order against husband Johnny Depp amidst allegations of domestic assault. Seventeen years earlier, Nate Parker was acquitted of raping a woman when it emerged that, prior to the time in question, he had had consensual sex with his accuser. The ramifications of these charges re-emerged in 2016 for Parker when he was promoting his directorial debut Birth of a Nation. It is not my intention to equate the two cases but to compare them; to question the nature of the systems of privilege that explain Depp’s continued success and Parker’s condemnation.

Upon the revelation of the African-American Parker’s past, Birth of a Nation, which was adored upon its premiere at Sundance, and at one point seemed a shoo-in for awards glory, was effectively torpedoed. Parker’s career in film, it would seem, is equally tarnished. Given that his acquittal represents a woeful miscarriage of justice, it is not for us to find sympathy for Parker. What is notable, however, is the speed at which his cohorts and peers performed damage control, effectively exiling him from the Hollywood community, and distancing the film industry from the whole affair, while in cases involving other male figures in the industry, like Depp, the same cannot be said.

In the recent case against Depp, Amber Heard provided access both to witnesses of a prior assault and photo evidence of her bruised face for police. Nonetheless, the backlash against Heard was swift, while Depp’s character was repeatedly praised. Depp’s ex-wife Vanessa Paradis and co-star Paul Bettany both spoke to his positive character, seemingly failing to understand that so many abusers can seem anything but abusive right up until the moment they’re not.   

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Amber Heard and Johnny Depp

More common than the active decrying of Heard, however, was the sheer apathy of so many toward the charges raised. Just months following the settlement of the Heard case, predicated on a significant pay-off, which Heard donated to domestic abuse charities, Depp was cast in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, with a contract to appear in four further instalments of the film franchise. The speed at which Depp was restored from domestic abuser to multi-million-earning mainstream darling was dazzling. When asked about Depp’s casting in such proximity to Heard’s charges, executive producer of Fantastic Beasts David Heyman told PEOPLE magazine:

‘Here’s the thing: Misogyny, abuse, maltreatment of people is unacceptable — but none of us know what happened in that room. So I think it would be unfair for me to be judge and jury, or for any of us to be judge and jury.’

Unfortunately, judge and jury is exactly what Heyman and those behind this decision have acted as. In providing Depp a sure-fire hit, sorely needed after a string of commercial bombs, and placing him front and centre in another multi-picture family franchise, without at all addressing the allegations against him or considering how that might change his position in Hollywood, they implicitly declared him innocent to the world, and in turn suggested Heard’s allegations either frivolous or false.

Rowling herself must shoulder some responsibility for this decision. So long a figure of adoration and unwavering respect for legions of young people, her actions hold hugely influential weight amongst her followers, and so the unwillingness to engage or even acknowledge her new star’s behaviour sends a deeply troubling message to her fans; that those with both the celebrity and the perceived financial worth of Depp may act with relative impunity so long as they add to the studio’s bottom line.

Actions such as these have consequences, the most profound of which is the continued legitimisation of violence against women from a community that otherwise takes such pride in its progressive values. In 1977, Roman Polanski was notoriously convicted for sex with a thirteen-year-old girl, before fleeing to continental Europe, whilst Woody Allen continues to face down allegations from Mia Farrow that he sexually abused their daughter Dylan. Given that the Hollywood glitterati line up to decry their newly inaugurated pussy-grabbing President, their seeming contentedness to turn a blind eye to the perpetrators within their midst reeks of hypocrisy.

Sooner or later one hopes Hollywood will face up to its enabling of violence against women. Owing to his settlement with Heard, Depp’s legal guilt may not be provable any longer, but the refusal of his cohorts to consider the allegations, or to weigh the impact of their unflinching support, is symptomatic of the trend in ignoring potential abuse. It is all well and good shunning Parker, but Depp’s continued success, alongside Allen and Polanski to name only a few, sadly supports the notion of white privilege intersecting with the cult of personality and the draw of the dollar, which ultimately equates to immunity for some. The persistent dismissal and defamation of those who would dare accuse one of their own cannot therefore but ally this supposed progressive bastion with the Commander in Chief they loathe so much.  


About Harry

Harry is currently undertaking his MSc in Literature and Modernity at the University of Edinburgh, having previously completed his BA in English Literature from the University of Reading. His interests lie in gender studies, especially within literature and cinema.

Article edited by Paulina Dregvaite.

Image Credits

1. Nate Parker. Credit Chris Pizzello/Invision, via Associated Press (left) and Johnny Depp. Credit BROADIMAGE/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK (right)

2. Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. Credit Ettore Ferrari/EPA

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