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Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Yates defended Depp’s “decency and kindness.” Reading between the lines, he doesn’t seem to believe allegations that Depp abused his ex-wife Amber Heard. Or if he does, Yates seems to see the allegations as a meaningless one-off.
“Honestly there’s an issue at the moment where there’s a lot of people being accused of things, they’re being accused by multiple victims, and it’s compelling and frightening. With Johnny, it seems to me there was one person who took a pop at him and claimed something. I can only tell you about the man I see every day: He’s full of decency and kindness, and that’s all I see. Whatever accusation was out there doesn’t tally with the kind of human being I’ve been working with.”
He reminded EW that Heard is the only woman to accuse Depp of domestic violence. “It’s very different [than cases] where there are multiple accuses over many years,” he added. This is unlikely to appease the widespread demands for Depp to be replaced in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.
While Yates doesn’t actively call Heard a liar, he doesn’t take her accusations seriously either. But during Depp and Heard’s divorce, those accusations were backed up by audio recordings, photos, and testimony from witnesses who described physical and verbal abuse. She was previously granted a restraining order against Depp, and in an unrelated court case, Depp’s former managers alleged that he physically assaulted her in 2014.
Depp paid a divorce settlement of $7 million—which Heard donated to charity. With all of that context in mind, it’s hard to accept the conspiracy theory that Heard invented the allegations out of thin air.
Without realizing it, Yates just gave a textbook example of why abuse survivors don’t come forward. He has a positive relationship with Depp, and as a result, he can’t believe that Depp would be cruel to someone else. This is exactly how abusers hide in plain sight. If you have a reputation for friendliness and “decency”—especially among people in positions of power—then it’s easier to get away with abusive behavior in your personal life. Remember: Until this year, Harvey Weinstein was widely celebrated as a champion of indie cinema. Famously, he was thanked in more Oscar speeches than god.
Depp is a charming, talented actor, and Yates is directing a movie that may rehabilitate Depp’s career. Of course Yates’ image of Depp “doesn’t tally” with the man Heard described in court documents.
Worryingly, Yates also draws a distinction between “decent” Depp and “frightening” accused serial abusers like Weinstein. He feels able to overlook Depp’s allegations because only one woman came forward. But shouldn’t one be enough? This statement displays a disturbing attitude for a powerful man in Hollywood, suggesting Yates doesn’t understand the true impact of sexism and abuse in the industry.
Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a staff writer at the Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in sci-fi movies and superheroes, she also appears as a film and TV critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she co-hosts the pop culture podcast Overinvested. Follow her on Twitter: @Hello_Tailor