Hollywood and the Case of the Abusive Celebrity
*This article assumes the survivors are telling the truth regardless of the outcome of the court cases/lack of charges pressed against their abusers.
Something that I’ve become very adamant about over the past year or so is working on aligning my life with my values. As much as I would like to think that every day I’m going to be at conferences and having meetings with the President about cultural change in the US, the reality is that, most days, I’m sitting behind a desk at my “real job” and making change through discussions with my friends, coworkers, and strangers. Making sure my walk matches my intersectional, love driven, faith led, and inclusive talk, is a big job. It’s truly not as easy as it seems, especially when you delve deeper every day.
Something that I’ve recently found I’ve had to do is hold people I really like accountable for their actions. In this case, celebrities. When I was in middle school and high school, my goal was to watch every single Johnny Depp movie because I was in love with his entire being. I liked the way JD talked, looked, acted, and even smoked. And the tattoos… I loved the tattoos. When I heard about Amber Heard filing for divorce and a restraining order from this man, I was immediately sad because I really enjoyed him. But that nearly obsessive admiration I had for him doesn’t overcome my values of standing with survivors of abuse and always believing someone because so may others won’t. Backlash from people saying that Amber Heard is a gold digger or that she’s trying to end Depp’s career spread all over social media from a variety of people including his daughter Lily-Rose Depp and his ex-girlfriend Vanessa Paradis. Never mind that the $7 million she received from the divorce case is going to the Children's Hospital of LA and ACLU that stops violence against women. Not to mention the fact that this is all under “entertainment” news, which is understandable but grinds my gears a little.
I’ve heard the stories of survivors who’ve bravely decided to speak up and share what they have gone through. I’ve listened to them say things like, “I still wake up in the middle of the night, fifteen years later, feeling my abusers hands on me.” I hear this and think about that one day being Amber Heard. She’s an actress and she may have money but she’s still a human being. I don’t really understand where that gets lost in translation for some people. When I think about Heard saying this in fifteen years, that this experience still haunts her in some aspect, I can’t just not want the best for her because I like Johnny Depp in Cry Baby. Her life isn’t going to be the same. People will always remind her of this part of her life for years to come. She’ll watch Johnny Depp probably continue to succeed and be reminded of what his hands have done.
Take another situation (there are too many similar ones) where Woody Allen molested his daughter, Dylan Farrow. (I’m going to speak definitively because I believe her.) I read her accounts of what happened in her open letter from two years ago when Allen was about to win the Lifetime Achievement award. She begins by asking what your favorite Woody Allen movie is before getting into the heartbreaking accounts of what she’s gone through. Hollywood, of course, patted her head, said “this may or may not have happened, dear”, and awarded Allen anyway. He didn’t show up but he threw himself a party while Dylan Farrow was probably having panic attacks.
Also recently, we have Nate Parker whose sexual assault allegation from 1999 resurfaced. Though Parker and his friend, Jean Celestin, were both the ones to commit the crime, only Parker’s friend was charged because Parker had had consensual sex with the girl beforehand so apparently that means he couldn’t have raped her. Celestin appealed his case and got acquitted four years later. The young woman committed suicide in 2012 and won’t get to tell her side of the story today though her testimony in court was powerful. This is resurfacing of the rape comes just in time for Parker to become more famous for his new movie The Birth of a Nation, a film where critics said a brutal rape of a slave woman is one of the most powerful moments.
I’ve done various sexual assault trainings in my life, whether for work, a leadership position, or just something I was interested in. Before I came to college, before I knew more, I never understood why the first step to being an ally for an assault survivor was to believe them. I didn’t get it. Who wouldn’t believe someone who had gone through such a traumatic thing? This was back when I thought that the justice system was only flawed sometimes and didn’t realize that 1 in 4 college aged women will get sexually assaulted. Now that I know better and have seen campus assaults end with no justice, seen friends of mine make excuses for rapists, seen people say that someone was “asking for it”, and seen people say, “well, he’s a man. He probably wanted it. They’re gay right? They were into it.” Now that I’ve seen these things and they are now becoming almost expected responses, I choose to always believe the survivor.
I believe we live in a world where the general public looks for the thing that is easiest or most beneficial to them. If you say Amber Heard is just a gold digger, you can comfortably have a Pirates of the Caribbean marathon and maybe make a joke about it while you're switching movies. You can watch the classic, Annie Hall, and praise the director for his work, though not hold him responsible for the other things he’s done in his life. You can support The Birth of a Nation without having to think that the creator may have aided in the deterioration of someone’s mental health, eventually leading to their death.
I won't tell anyone whether or not to support the works of the people listed above or people like Bill Cosby, Mel Gibson, or Chris Brown. I am going to say, however, that when we put the legacy of an individual above the sanity of another individual, that’s screwed up. As much as we see the pictures from paparazzi, the reality is that we don't know these people. We only know the personas they play on screen, on stage, and for the fans. So take a second and think about whether or not your thoughts about these situations support the values that you want to believe in and live by.
Teri Bradford is the Editor in Chief of Concept: The Magazine. Visit the Concept: Staff page to get to know the whole family.