What Should We Do When a Celeb is Accused of Something Terrible?
Consequences, Outrage, and Solidarity.
When I was a kid, I loved Pirates of the Caribbean.
I don't mean a little love – I was obsessed. My parents redecorated my entire room to fit the pirate theme. I saw the second movie seven times in theaters, with friends, family, even alone. I could recite every line of every movie, and of course, I had the posters. Lots and lots of posters. Mostly of one person: Johnny Depp.
Specifically Jack Sparrow, but my love for POTC led me to watch other Johnny Depp classics. I fell in love with his acting ability. His performances in Blow, Edward Scissorhands, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Sleepy Hollow, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory – it didn't matter how 'bad' the movie was, or how critically acclaimed. If it had Johnny Depp starring, I was into it.
And then in May 2016, Amber Heard came forward about Johnny Depp's abuse. She had video evidence. She had photographs. She wanted a divorce, and safety from a man who repeatedly assaulted her, physically and verbally, over a 15 month marriage.
I was devastated. The man I had so admired had instantly become someone who made my stomach churn. I took down my posters, I couldn't stand to look at them anymore. I haven't watched POTC or any Johnny Depp feature since the news broke. I was excited about Murder on the Orient Express – until I realized he'd have a starring role. Now I think I'll give it a pass.
I one hundred percent stand with Amber Heard. I believe her. I was shocked and horrified by the outright denial from many of the Hollywood Elite. Paul Bettany claimed that "[Depp]'s the sweetest, kindest, gentlest man that I've ever known. Just saying." Blatantly undermining Amber Heard's allegations. Mickey Rourke said that Depp "doesn’t seem like a very violent man to me."
And then there was the general public response.
While several feminist groups took up variations the mantle "I Stand With Amber Heard" on Twitter and other social media, I was dismayed to see several of my personal Facebook friends come out with statements like "We should wait until we have all the facts," "Allegations like this can ruin a man's life/career," "How do we know she isn't doing this for the money?"
Here are the facts: domestic violence is a systemic problem that disproportionately affects women, and is highly under-reported because victims are so often disbelieved. Johnny Depp's career hasn't suffered so much as a blip – he's starred in at least eight or so new movies filmed or completed in 2017/2018 according to his IMDB page. And Amber Heard donated all $7 million she received in the divorce settlement to a charity that aims to help domestic abuse victims.
There is no doubt that in many ways, Amber Heard's allegations were handled poorly. Both by Hollywood and the general public. There's obviously a bit of misogyny at play here, but I think there's also the tendency to want to forgive celebs for their faults. There's the ever popular 'Abuse Apologist Bingo' which one of my glorious friends on Facebook links every time these accusations surface. And for good reason – by the end of the week, people will hit every single one of these spaces. Bingo.
Kevin Spacey was recently accused of sexual assault against the then-fourteen year old Anthony Rapp, and then two more men in the time since. His "apology" left much to be desired, as did Louis C.K.'s apology shortly after. The only difference between Spacey's statement and C.K.'s is that at least C.K. had the gumption to admit that the accusations were true, instead of hiding behind the not-apology of saying "if."
The big difference between Spacey's allegations, C.K.'s allegations, and Depp's? Spacey and C.K. both faced consequences, public and professional for their actions. Spacey's House Of Cards has been cancelled – though according to some, that was already in the works for this season anyway. Which is a shame, as Robin Wright could carry that show onto at least three more glorious seasons in my opinion. C.K. lost funding for his Netflix programs, and a slew of other projects have been abruptly ground to a halt. Their careers are affected. Their public personas are affected. So why not Depp's?
The difference is, Depp's accusations happened almost a full year before the hashtag #metoo had hit the internet, bonding women and survivors of abuse together in an unprecedented way. And before we started taking survivors' words seriously, before the Abuser Apologist Bingo card was thrown out the window. When Depp's allegations came out, with proof and substance, it didn't matter. The public and Hollywood still had their heads firmly buried in the sand. And we've been allowed to forget, despite the initial cries of "His career will be ruined!"
I'm happy about the consequences that are surfacing for abusers at the merest allegations coming to light. But Ray Moore is still winning his campaign, despite allegations of multiple sexual misconducts with minors. It is not enough that survivors are finally starting to be believed in small circles. The fight is far from over. Men like Moore and Depp still live in a world where they can be accused, found guilty, and face zero professional consequences for their actions. People have even rallied behind Moore, "boycotting" Keurig for pulling ads from Sean Hannity's talk show over his coverage of the scandal. (In the most backwards, misunderstood way imaginable.)
Jesse Lacey, of the indie-rock band Brand New, was also revealed to have a seedy past when it came to women and minors. My best friend is a huge Brand New fan, but she was among the first to denounce him and his actions. It's painful, when a celeb you love and adore, someone you've laughed at, someone who's works you've turned to in troubled times, pulls this kind of betrayal. But despite all they have given you, it's important to remember that they are not worthy of your undying admiration.
America in particular, is considered to be obsessed with our celebrities. We absorb pop-culture and media on the regular, we follow our faves on social media, we stand outside in ridiculously long lines to meet them, or even just to see their latest work. We have entire blogs devoted to their fashion sense, to their hair, to their left eyebrows in some cases. It's silly and fun, and I don't begrudge anyone that, since that would be enormously hypocritical of me.
But there has to be a line. There has to be a point where we look at a celebrity we love, and we turn our backs on them. Until, and in some cases, even if sincere apologies and consequences take place. Because there is no place in this world anymore for men in high power positions – and it doesn't get much more high power than 'celebrity' – to hide behind their status and get on with their lives a month after the allegations die down. Hollywood cannot hide you anymore. Your survivors will not keep your secrets. Your fans will not stick by you, no matter how die-hard. The consequences need to be real and long-lasting.
And they will be the most painful for fans and survivors, not for the abusers. A thousand careers can crumble, but if it is well-deserved, I will cheer. I will mourn the loss of my favorite shows, I will begrudge the fact that I cannot see certain movies or listen to certain songs anymore. I am sacrificing that in order to show some small semblance of solidarity for the survivors of these people. It's a small, minuscule token. It is all I can offer, not giving my time, money, or energy to these people who have behaved absolutely reprehensibly. I encourage others to do the same.
I do not know if it will make a difference, but it will help me sleep better at night. Which is hopefully, more soundly than these abusers.