The Moral Implications of Johnny Depp’s People’s Choice Award

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A lot of awards were given out last Wednesday night at the People’s Choice Awards, but one in particular stood out — and a in a good way. Actor Johnny Depp received the People’s Choice Award 2017 for Favorite Movie Icon. This is problematic for multiple reasons.

In May 2016, Depp’s now ex-wife, Amber Heard, filed for divorce and a temporary restraining order, claiming that Depp had physically and verbally abused her. What followed was a nine-month-long and extremely public divorce that consisted of police investigations and nasty claims from both sides. Five days after the divorce was finalized, Depp appeared to accept his award.
Putting his personal life aside for a brief moment, career-wise, his last few movies have been critically and commercially unsuccessful. With the exception of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” in which he only appeared in during the last few moments as a teaser for a future, larger role, his movies in the past few years have been constant failures.

When the movie was released in theaters last November, the surprise appearance of Depp caused mixed reactions on social media leading to the executive producer, director and even J.K. Rowling herself to defend the casting.

In response to fan criticism, producer David Heyman told PEOPLE, “He’s iconic. He’s an iconic actor and we needed an iconic actor to play this part … He was an absolute pleasure to work with. Misogyny, abuse, maltreatment of people is unacceptable — but none of us know what happened in that room.” J.K Rowling echoed similar sentiments stating that she was “delighted” by his casting.

What is so disheartening about their response is that Hollywood celebrities are constantly pushing that victims, male or female, be believed and when a prominent actress produces tapes, police records and her own testimony, suddenly we don’t “know what happened in that room.” The hypocrisy is absolutely appalling. J.K. Rowling, a self-proclaimed feminist, on numerous occasions has vocalized her support for victims of assault and yet she is “delighted” that an accused abuser will be starring in future films she is involved with. It should be noted that after a settlement was reached in August 2016 between Depp and Heard, the restraining order and Heard’s lawsuit against Depp’s friend and comedian Doug Stanhope for defamation was dropped.
Considering Heyman’s comments, I suppose it’s not surprising that Depp was nominated for Favorite Movie Icon. What is surprising is that he won in a category where Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Cruise, and Tom Hanks were the other nominees. Other actors with equally, if not more impressive work under their belts and no allegations of abuse. Whether you look at it from a professional or a personal point of view, it just doesn’t make sense. So why?

I believe it was some weird way of trying to mend Depp’s wounded reputation and save his career before it is irrevocably damaged. In his acceptance speech, Depp stated, “You very graciously invited me here once again tonight so I appreciate that very much.” Even he was surprised and acknowledged the nomination and award as some sort of sign of being welcomed back into the public’s good graces.

Hollywood knows that Depp’s continued success is wrong. It explains why Depp was notably absent from the release of the “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” trailer. Depp’s character, Jack Sparrow, was not present in the two-minute trailer despite being the main character. The movie is slated for a spring release this year and I sincerely hope that audiences take this into account, because money talks and Hollywood needs to be sent a message.

Caitlin Antonios is a second-year English and literary journalism double major. She can be reached at cfantoni@uci.edu.

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