J. K. Rowling and Johnny Depp: Was It Ethical to Keep Him In Fantastic Beasts After His Domestic Violence

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This essay will discuss whether it was ethical or not for J.K. Rowling to keep Johnny Depp in her movie Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald after his domestic violence allegations surfaced. Using the Potter Box method we will be able to properly analyze the case. The Potter Box consists of four steps that help the user form an informed opinion on the case they are studying. The four steps are defining the situation, giving all the facts and context that is relevant to the case. Identifying the loyalties one finds most important, then applying said loyalties to a moral theory. The moral theory will show us what should have been done in this case. Once we establish our moral theory it is time to state our loyalties and who has the most to gain or lose from this situation. On the one hand there are several reasons why she should keep him including: his domestic violence allegations were dropped in 2016, Depp’s Fantastic Beasts colleagues work well with him, and Depp has generated significant profit in every movie he has appeared in. But there are also reasons as to why it is unethical: fan reaction to the casting could hurt attendance among females audiences and victims of domestic violence, Depp no longer has the kind of box office draw in 2018 that he had when the series first went into production, and Depp’s behavior on past film sets could carry over to this film. To me it was an unethical act for Rowling to keep Depp in the movie.

In order to reach a conclusion, we must first start by breaking down the situation and looking at the primary facts. The two parties involved are J.K. Rowling; the author of the Harry Potter books as well as a producer for the live action movies. Johnny Depp, an actor who was recently accused of domestic violence by his ex-wife. Rowling decided to keep Depp despite the allegations coming out prior to committing Depp to the role. She publicly defended Depp’s casting on December 7, 2017 on her personal blog saying, “the filmmakers and I are not only comfortable… but genuinely happy to have Johnny (Rowling)”. These here are the main facts of the case, but there is more to unpack as there is also context to the situation yet to be given.

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Looking at the situation through a wider lens allows to gather more information and form a better opinion. The reason Rowling even addressed the casting was because she was under a lot of scrutiny by her fans to recast the role. On example comes from a twitter user who said the news was frustrating and even more so after seeing Kevin Spacey replaced by Christopher Plummer (gigawattconduit). Many fans felt Depp would hurt the franchise rather than boost it. As well as seeing this decision as another example of Rowling’s disingenuous progressiveness. This has not been the first time Rowling’s liberal title has been questioned, such as when she announced at fan Q&A that Dumbledore was gay three months after the release of the final book with little to no evidence in the text (Rowling). Now having a better understanding as to why Rowling felt she had to address her choice to begin with, now we must see what caused her to keep Depp.

First off, we must look at the reasons why it would be ethical to keep Depp. To refresh the mind, the three rationales I said were that the allegations were dropped in 2016, he has worked well with his Fantastic Beasts colleagues thus far, and that he has generated significant box office revenue. As just stated the allegations that Depp received were retracted on August 16, 2016 this is well before Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald even began production (Bruna Nessif). This gave Rowling and company plenty of time to look over the situation, analyze and determine whether Depp was innocent, which they felt he was. As she said in her blog post regarding the casting. The next reason is that Depp’s colleagues were working well with him during production. Yates said, “he’s full of decency and kindness, and that’s all I see (Yates).” Yates has also worked on the previous five Harry Potter related movies, having a long history with Rowling. Yet another colleague of Depp that spoke about the situation was co-star Ezra Miller, who in an interview with Playboy said, “none of us were consulted (Ezra).” The final ethical reason was that Depp has generated significant profit in every movie he has appeared in. From 2017 till 2010, Depp was in fifteen different movies and out of those fifteen only six could be considered profitable with the rest losing the studios money (Box Office Mojo). And of those six, only three had significant box office with the other three barely squeaking onto the profitable margin (Box Office Mojo). It is clear that unless Depp is in his Jack Sparrow costume, then his movies will struggle at the box office. From the three ethical rationales, only the first one can be seen as somewhat ethical, the second is about an even split and the final one is more unethical.

Next are the unethical rationales, which are Depp’s allegations could offend existing Harry Potter fans and victims of domestic violence, Depp is no longer a box office draw that he once was, and Depp has a recent history of being disruptive on set while working on movies. Looking at fan’s reactions to the news, it was not a warm welcome for Depp into the Harry Potter franchise. He was met with great hostility that many fans felt warranted about given other recent cases of abuse in Hollywood. There has been a number a of other actors that have been accused of domestic violence or sexual assault. Some include Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K. both of which were replaced in their respective roles (Galuppo et al) (Sharf). These actors committed equal or worse crime and were quickly dealt while fans felt Depp was given opportunity after opportunity. Before it was revealed that Depp was Grindelwald, actor Colin Farrell was playing the character Percival Graves later to be revealed as Grindelwald. Serving as the antagonist until the reveal happened. Fans took a liking to Farrell as the antagonist, which is why the switch to Depp was questioned even more. One fan on twitter called it “the cruelest trick ever” to switch actors (priscilla page). Plenty of other fans also voiced their opinions saying that Farrell should have been kept on playing the role. Not only was Farrell a fan favorite, but he also was clean of any drama that could be tied to him making him an unproblematic choice for the role. Despite fans wishes producer David Heyman said, ‘there’s no plans to bring Colin back for the sequel (Heyman).’ Similar to the ethical rationale about Depp being able to boost a movie because of his name. The next unethical rationale is that Depp cannot in fact carry a movie like he was able to. Since 2011 Depp has not had one bonified box office success besides the latest Pirates of the Caribbean (Box Office Mojo). And the last unethical reason was that there was a report months before Rowling put her foot on the ground that Depp was highly unprofessional and a nuisance during his time filming the most recent Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Reports from the crew members claimed that Depp would arrive late and drunk to set (Ashley Cullins and Stephen Galloway). These reports came out in May 2017, seven months before Rowling made the announcement that she was sticking with Depp. Looking at the three unethical rationales, all three point to the case being unethical as of now.

The following step in reaching my conclusion is stating the values I find key in this case. For my values, I have accountability, objectiveness, and consistency. I chose these values because all three are actions that J.K. Rowling displayed when coming to her decision. Rowling held herself accountable to decision of keeping Depp. She did not shy away from the situation and tackled it head on posting her reasoning on her personal website that generates on average eighty-five thousand visits a month. Next is objectiveness, which Rowling showed when she viewed the casting from both Depp’s and the fans’ perspectives to reach her conclusion. The last value is consistency, which Rowling has failed to do yet again. As woman who champions themselves as a feminist to then cast an alleged abuser goes against what is believed to be her ideology.

The following step is deciding what moral theory is closely related to my values. A moral theory should “tell us what we ought to do morally” (EA Concepts). For my moral theory I chose to apply Aristotle’s golden mean. I came to this conclusion after looking at the actions that were taken as well as the values that I listed previously. Aristotle’s golden mean was founded by Aristotle himself and is easily signified as being able to find the moderate position between two extreme ones. Aristotle was an ancient Greek philosopher who some call the “Father of Western Philosophy,” and his philosophies were inspired by Greek mentalities of the time revolving around symmetry, proportion, and harmony. In Media Ethics: Issues and Cases by Philip Patterson and Lee Wilkins (2008) the golden mean can be elaborated more as it is applied by “both the nature of the act itself and the moral character of the person who acts” (p 8). For a lot of Aristotle’s mean there is no explicit way to execute the lifestyle. Aristotle does not lay out the rules one would assume because this philosophy is about the context in which it is being presented and who is the one making the choice. In this case Rowling must find the solution that she personally views balanced given the situation her own fans have put her in as well as sticking to her original choice of actor. Aristotle virtue wants the individual to do the right thing at the right time as well as in the right way, right amount, and towards the right people (Aristotle, 1953, p 109). The “right thing” changes the moment any other component is changed as well. One moment giving money to your friend for food sounds like the right thing to do until you realize you do not even have money to buy yourself food. This is how Aristotle presents his golden mean. Another way to phrase it is by saying “if you know, you know,” which implies that one must be self-aware of the situation they are in before proceeding further. In order to “know” though the virtue cannot be used in self-contained events rather applied throughout ones day until it becomes a habit. Aristotle tells one to fall in the middle of spectrum never leaning too far in either direction. As Patterson and Williams explain in their book “the way to behave ethically is that (1) you must know (through the exercise of practical reason) what you are doing; (2) you must select the act for its own sake—in order to flourish; and (3) the act itself must spring from a firm and unchanging character” (p. 8).

Now having an understanding what Aristotle’s golden mean represents, we must apply it to the decision Rowling takes. Rowling’s choice was not consistent with the public image she likes to give herself to be. This is a big part of Aristotle’s golden mean, to apply the lifestyle until it becomes a habit and to be consistent to one’s beliefs. How can Rowling claim to be for female empowerment then hire a man that has laid his hands on a woman (Rowling). Rowling also held herself accountable in the blog post, explaining how it was a difficult decision to keep Depp but also having to please her fans. Saying that she did consider recasting at one point but chose not to. Rowling understood that the fan’s disapproval had some merit and had impact on her making her final decision to keep Depp. Being accountable is part of Aristotle’s mean as the individual is the one making the correct choice and sticking by it. Finally, the key part of Aristotle’s virtue is working towards knowing the right and balanced decision. Rowling was objective to both sides that she was caught in-between of. It could have been easy for her to simply recast Depp after her fans clamored to replace him. To some, they felt that casting was disrespectful to victims of domestic violence. On the other hand, to deny Depp a job opportunity after the allegations were dropped would be unfair to him, especially on a high-profile project like the Fantastic Beats movies. Aristotle’s famous list of virtues includes “courage, temperance, liberality, patience, truthfulness and modesty (1953, p 104). Since then others have added related virtues including objectiveness. Rowling displayed Aristotle’s golden mean throughout this case, as she navigated her way through both sides of the argument until she reached the solution she felt fit and fair. This was not her first time making a choice that affected her coworkers and fans, she will continue to as well. Looking at how Aristotle’s golden mean was applied is it more clear that what Rowling did is unethical. Heading towards the final step of the essay and looking at where the loyalties fall on this case. Many of the reasons Rowling did what she did was because of who was going to be affected.

For the final piece of our case, we must look at our loyalties and who is impacted by Rowling’s decisions. First is Rowling who has constantly been under fire for her creative decisions regarding her Harry Potter franchise and her flip flopping of certain stances she takes. This would be another blow to her legacy and her fans would again be let down by her choices. The second party I am loyal too are the fans of the Harry Potter movies who have been loyal to the franchise and at time have felt unheard even though they try to give Rowling as much feedback as they can on what they want. Whenever Rowling tries to please her fans it comes off as cheap fan service for some “woke” points. Lastly, Depp who had the opportunity to bounce back in a big way after his last Pirates movie but could not really. This is his last big opportunity to get on the mainstreams good graces again as he does not have any other movies in the works at the moment. Overall looking at my loyalties, two out the three would benefit more from having Depp recast which makes this section unethical as well.

In conclusion, through the use of the Potter Box and the four steps we were able to come to an informed conclusion. Although J. K. Rowling thought she was doing herself and Johnny Depp a favor it was an unethical move to keep a man that allegedly abused his ex-wife at the time.

Work Cited

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