In the weeks after Harvey Weinstein was found guilty of sexual assault charges, Hollywood vowed to change its misogynistic culture.
Now, it would seem that a significant shift, supported at the highest levels of the industry, is beginning to occur.
Johnny Depp asked to resign
This week, Johnny Depp has been asked to resign from his role as character Gellert Grindewald in the Fantastic Beasts movie after a court judgement in the UK ruled that he had repeatedly assaulted his former wife Amber Heard.
While Mr Depp intends to appeal the judgment made by the British court, he said in a statement on social media that he ‘respected and agreed’ to the decision by his bosses.
Defamation case against ‘The Sun’ newspaper
The decision by Warner Brothers came swiftly on the back of London High Court Judge Andrew Nicol’s ruling in favour of The Sun newspaper, which Mr Depp was attempting to sue for defamation over a 2018 online article labelling him a “wife beater”.
Judge Nicol found that the newspaper’s allegation was “substantially true”.
Both Mr Depp and his former wife Ms Heard gave evidence before Judge Nicol in July during a three-week hearing at London’s High Court, detailing every aspect of their private lives – each making allegations of serious domestic abuse, drug-taking and extra-marital affairs.
In handing down his findings, Judge Nicol found that Mr Depp assaulted Ms Heard on more than 10 occasions, including during a three-day rampage in Queensland.
The decision by Warner Brothers
Warner Brothers executives felt as though they only had three choices with regard to Johnny Depp: to carry on regardless, to reduce his role, or to fire him.
They chose the latter, and his role will now be recast, even in light of the fact that Mr Depp plans to appeal the London High Court’s ruling, meaning that the full justice process has not yet run its course, and could potentially expose them to further litigation from the star.
In a similar move earlier this year, Disney confirmed that it had released Johnny Depp from his Pirates of the Caribbean contract.
Several media reports have suggested that the wife-beating allegations had made Johnny Depp ‘potential poison’ at the box office and given that he is rumoured to earn around $100 million per Pirates film, perhaps Disney number crunches felt that the risk for return just wasn’t worth it.
Ending the culture of ‘toxic masculinity’ in Hollywood
But Hollywood commentators suggest that these decisions are not just about the money. It’s about cleaning up the industry’s culture of toxic masculinity, and doing more than simply ‘paying lip service’ to that aim.
Since allegations were first levelled at Harvey Weinsten in 2017 and the #MeToo movement gained momentum, there has been significant pressure on the movie industry to raise it’s standards – to ensure that women are well supported and safe at work.
The decision by both Disney and Warner Bros to let Mr Depp go is being seen as a win for both victims of domestic violence and #MeToo survivors, because it makes it clear that mistreatment of women and violence against women simply won’t be tolerated.
Since the #MeToo movement began, there have been notable shifts in the industry. Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein are in jail. High profile actors such as Kevin Spacey and Brett Ratner have been replaced and have since disappeared from the scene. Roman Polanski and Bill Cosby were expelled from the Academy. These are just a few of the significant changes.
Change is occurring
Time’s Up, an organisation set up to handle the practical side of culture change as a result of #MeToo has successfully raised millions for legal funds in the past couple of years and amassed volunteer lawyers, made donations to women’s organisations, shared support lines and advice for shooting sex scenes.
Time’s Up’s charter is to work towards stamping out sexual harassment and bullying in the industry, and to create safe workplaces for women, but it also champions diversity, women’s roles and equality.
It’s definitely a very promising start.
In the meantime, Mr Depp and his former wife Amber Heard remain locked in a $50 million defamation case which stems from a piece published in the Washington Post about domestic violence, written by Amber Heard.
Mr Depp’s lawyers alleged that this article cost him the Pirates of the Caribbean role, even though it never mentioned him by name and sued Ms Heard. A few months later she counter-sued.
Their personal legal battle is likely to continue for some months to come.