By Pip Williams
Content note: Reference to domestic and sexual violence
Like much of my generation, the Harry Potter books were an intrinsic part of my childhood. The later films mapped alongside my own teenage years, with the final installment coming out the summer I began sixth form. I watched it in the cinema in Tasmania, and distinctly remember the guy in front of me gasping “no f***ing way!” when it was revealed that Harry was the final Horcrux.
It wasn’t until after the franchise reached its natural end (or so I then naïvely believed) that I began to see the gaping holes in my idyllic childhood favourites. Be it the lack of minority representation, or Rowling’s dodgy ret-cons attempting to correct them, there was plenty to raise an eyebrow at.
The one thing I could never get my head around was how Snape was meant to be a hero. How was I meant to buy into that redemption arc, when–despite eventually dying for the cause, Snape was an abusive bully? Snape treated Harry how he did purely because Harry bore a resemblance to his own father, who happened to bully Snape in school. As if being bullied in school is an excuse for becoming such a vile, vindictive adult human being. I don’t know about you, but “wanting to bone my mum so much that he kept on the straight and narrow” isn’t really a substitute for a moral compass.
The fact that Rowling’s story hinges around the dubious redemption of an abuser should perhaps have been a red flag when it came to her personal politics. Self-satisfied centrism notwithstanding. I’m talking about her miserable response to the tidal wave of fans calling for some accountability over the casting of a known abuser in her upcoming film.
Johnny Depp was cast in current Harry Potter universe franchise, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, before ex-wife Amber Heard accused him of domestic abuse, filming a brief cameo for the first film’s climax. Since Heard came forward, the calls for Depp’s role to be recast have been insistent and unwavering. The appeals to Rowling, a producer and screenwriter of the franchise, to explain how on earth his continued presence can be justified, have finally been answered, but not in the way most of us had hoped. Instead, Rowling issued a statement defending Depp’s role in the series.
Rowling’s statement is a sickening indictment of how deeply abuse apologism runs through the fabric of our society. We see one of the world’s most famous authors declaring that she is “genuinely happy” to retain a known abuser in her franchise, and that she believes she is doing “the right thing”. Like director David Yates, who claims Depp is “full of decency and kindness,” and states that allegations against him “[don’t] tally with the kind of human being I’ve been working with,” Rowling seems to have mistaken a lack of abusive behaviour in her presence for proof of his innocence. Much like Snape’s questionable character arc, they hold up unrelated qualities as insistence that he was a good guy all along.
We’re not buying it.
The #MeToo movement is toppling the careers of sexually abusive men at every turn. We need to remember that this isn’t the only kind of abuser out there, and hold domestic abusers to the same level of account. Rowling might believe that “conscience isn’t governable by committee,” so it’s up to us to speak a language she and her team might consider worthy – cold hard cash.
I will not be paying to see the next instalment of Fantastic Beasts, and neither should you. It seems incredible that we have to teach the author of a series about love overcoming evil the basics here, but hopefully, if enough disappointed ex-fans boycott the movie, our message will get through.