After years of controversy about his public conduct and abuse allegations from ex-wife Amber Heard, Johnny Depp has been fired from the Fantastic Beasts franchise. This comes after he lost a defamation case against the British Sun newspaper, which described him as a “wife-beater.” The judge ruled the Sun‘s claims to be “substantially true,” based on reliable evidence of domestic abuse. “I have reached these conclusions having examined in detail the 14 incidents on which the defendants rely,” the judge explained in his ruling.
Depp shared the Fantastic Beasts news on Instagram, writing that Warner Bros. had “asked him to resign” from his role as Grindelwald. Along with public support from Warner Bros. and Fantastic Beasts director David Yates, J.K. Rowling previously defended Depp in 2017, saying she was “genuinely happy” to have him star in the franchise. This statement implicitly supported Depp’s claim that he was innocent of domestic violence, and that Heard was the abusive partner. His recent libel lawsuit was a failed attempt to defend that claim.
Depp’s continuing role in Fantastic Beasts played into many people’s disillusionment with J.K. Rowling, coupled with her transphobic comments. Depp still has some supporters on social media, but this new lawsuit is a definitive statement both legally and in terms of his career.
British courts are perceived as very sympathetic toward this kind of libel case, because the U.K. doesn’t have the same free speech protections as the U.S. Speaking to NPR, London lawyer Jenny Afia explained, “English laws are much more favorable for someone looking to protect their reputation.” Individuals like Depp (and organizations like the Church of Scientology) are sometimes described as “libel tourists,” because they choose to bring this kind of lawsuit to the U.K. instead of attempting it in the U.S.
In his statement on Instagram, Depp described the ruling as “surreal,” and said he still hoped to disprove the abuse allegations elsewhere. But the U.K. court ruling doesn’t bode well for that plan. It was also enough for Warner Bros. to terminate his role in Fantastic Beasts—an extremely rare move for such a high-profile actor. Grindelwald is one of the most important characters in the franchise, and will now have to be recast. Whether Fantastic Beast’s reputation recovers is another matter. Between Rowling’s transphobia and Warner Bros.’ earlier support of Depp, many fans had already abandoned the franchise.
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