JK Rowling broke her silence (and her website) yesterday afternoon by making a statement about the casting of Johnny Depp as Gellert Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.
I cut and pasted that description because I literally couldn’t be arsed to write it all out, but don’t take my laziness as an indicator of the importance I place on the matter, I just wanted to get straight to the point rather than faffing about with Gellerts and Grindelwalds. It’s hugely important.
JK Rowling is/was one of the good ones. As a woman who famously emerged from uncomfortable circumstances through talent and persistence, she’s a trailblazer to many who might otherwise be without hope. For the most part she’s used her extraordinary success to advocate for those less fortunate, push unfashionable agendas and turn her Twitter account into a dedicated idiot humiliation tool.
She’s very much a woman of her time. Which is a big part of the reason why we stared at our screens like stunned mullets when her statement dropped. While her silence on the matter of the Depp casting in light of abuse allegations by his ex-partner Amber Heard created a vacuum, it wasn’t one into which the media felt the need to force a narrative. Rowling had earned our trust and like Uma Thurman, we assumed she was pausing to look to the sky and gather herself before embarking upon her run-up.
I haven’t asked Dr Brian Cox but I think I’m safe to say a tacit endorsement of Depp’s casting is the strongest evidence yet that nature abhors a vacuum.
I’ve read a lot of hot takes and while the whole statement is troubling, it’s the above excerpt that’s riling people the most. Specifically the highlighted section. The New Statesman’s Anna Leszkiewicz feels that the use of the possessive determiner ‘our’ implies a tacit endorsement of Fantastic Beasts director David Yates’ take on the matter, which swerves perilously close to dismissive of Heard’s experience. Others see the statement as few hundred well chosen words that say nothing at all; disturbing from a writer of Rowling’s absurd skill.
Post-Weinstein (don’t be under any illusion, that was and is an era defining moment), the question of separation between the artist and their art has been raised and masticated once again. After a few weeks vague contemplation I stuck with my Pre-Weinstein (see?) assertion that you don’t have to agree with everything a person says or is in order to enjoy their work.
In light of Rowling’s statement, I’ve been forced to reassess this once again. Isn’t reacting passively and effectively condoning bad behaviour what we are criticising her for? While it would be churlish to dismiss the pressures of the spheres in which she moves, her platform is such that she is uniquely placed to direct which way this narrative unfolds. To point in a new direction that doesn’t overlook egregious behaviour because for the most part, Depp is a nice bloke who sometimes dresses up as a pirate for the kids.
Saying nothing and going with the flow is one thing but we can no longer claim ignorance of the impact having their stories suppressed has on survivors. We know now that survivors suffer physically, emotionally and mentally, not just as a result of abuse but because our culture is geared towards ensuring that the repercussions for abusers are minimal, if there are any at all.
We are all responsible for the messages that influence our culture because we buy the music, books, movies and games. It’s no longer enough to say, “well, I don’t endorse his views but he writes a lovely chorus,” and carrying on regardless.
This is going to hurt if it’s going to work. It would have hurt JK Rowling if her statement yesterday had condemned Depp’s casting, and while I acknowledge that the pain would have been far reaching, I can tell you with absolute certainty that it would have been nothing compared to the pain thousands of people feel at this very moment as they struggle to live with the consequences of abuse. The very same people who might just have seen a spark of light from a mere acknowledgement of their plight. Including Amber Heard.
And that’s why, with considerable sadness and disappointment, I have to say shame on you, JK Rowling. Shame.