Ooof, this is a stressful topic to write about. I'll admit that right up front. I am a HUGE Harry Potter fan, as anyone who's met me for more than two seconds will know. I am also a feminist who believes in the #MeToo movement, who believes we need to BELIEVE women when they report abuse, who is thrilled that #TimesUp for predators, especially in Hollywood, where I live and make my living. I am a book nerd, a film nut, and the movie industry in particular is very close to my heart.
I am also, I should probably mention, someone who has experienced long-term abuse.
As you might guess, I was very curious to read J.K. Rowling's response to criticisms over the casting of Johnny Depp in the Fantastic Beasts franchise. Depp has been accused of domestic violence by his ex-wife Amber Heard, although she has since dropped the charges. Because of his disturbing history, many people have understandably called for Depp's role to be recast. After all, actors in Harry Potter have been recast for much smaller crimes; surely something as severe as domestic violence would move producers to action? Surely J.K. Rowling, who has in the past been a vocal defendant of victims of abuse, would have something to say about this? She is arguably one of the only authors in existence who would certainly have the power to affect the casting of her films (most authors have zero say in the matter).
But, notably, Rowling stands by the choice. As she states on her website:
"Based on our understanding of the circumstances, the filmmakers and I are not only comfortable sticking with our original casting, but genuinely happy to have Johnny playing a major character in the movies."
'Genuinely happy.' Hmmm. Due to a variety of reasons, I assume many of them legal, Rowling did not say specifically why she's happy with the casting; merely that she is. This has led many people to vocally criticize Rowling for not believing Heard. Although Rowling never said as much, most people seem to assume that if she is 'genuinely happy' about this casting, that must mean she believes Depp to be innocent, and therefore believes Heard to be a liar. That is, of course, a possibility.
But, given Rowling's character, does it really seem likely? She's often defended the abused, experienced abuse herself, and never had a problem speaking up on tricky subjects in the past. She's one of the few celebrities who I feel has earned enough trust for us to at least stop and consider what she might mean by this statement. Because there is another possibility. There is another option, one which is critical for us to acknowledge, and one which is uncomfortably personal for me to write about.
I have never written about my own abuse publicly, and to be honest it's a bit terrifying to do so now. I didn't even use the #MeToo hashtag when it was making the rounds, because my story felt too complicated to post about. But as this movement of change sweeps across Hollywood and the film industry -- and, hopefully, every other town and industry -- I feel compelled to share, because that other option I referenced is so incredibly important, especially now.
I'm not here to tell the full story of my abuse. Rather, I want to share one essential point, one which made all the difference: the person who abused me changed. Seeing that change, I came to forgive them. We both moved on. And now? I genuinely wish them the best.
Does this mean the abuse is justified? No, of course not. Does this mean there are no consequences? No, of course not. Does this mean all abusers change? No, of course not. Does this mean that I, personally, am obligated to have a relationship with this person? No, of course not! But does it mean that this person deserves to lose their job, to be shunned by society, or to receive continual public ridicule for their actions? In this case, I don't think so. When I say I wish them the best, I don't mean it as a platitude. I mean I believe they're different now, and therefore I don't want continuing punishment for them. That is why I won't write any details of the story; I don't believe my abuser deserves ongoing punishment, because I actually have seen them change. I have seen them experience consequences, I have seen them personally change, and I have forgiven them.
Now, to clarify, this doesn't mean that I believe every abuser deserves to get off scot-free. Certainly not. There needs to be consequences; there needs to be legitimate change in their behavior and person. But if those changes actually occur, shouldn't there also be room for forgiveness?
I can't know for sure what Rowling meant by her response. I don't know what she thought about Depp or Heard, and I don't know for sure whether Depp has changed. But it is a possibility.
After my own experience with abuse, I know one thing for certain: if we're going to see real change with the #TimesUp movement, if we're going to bring about societal, systemic, and cultural growth, if we're going to actually find healing in all this, we have to leave room for forgiveness. We have to believe that abusers CAN actually change when we call them out, when they face consequences, when they are confronted. This doesn't mean that they will always change; obviously that's not true, and it would be naive to suggest as much. But we must at least believe that it's possible. Otherwise, what's the point of punishment in the first place? History has taught us that punishment for punishment's sake is a short-term solution. It won't last, and it could end up creating even more damage. We must leave room for people to actually change, or else this movement will only be a band-aid slapped on top of a long-term, deeply generational problem.
There still must be consequences. There still must be a serious cultural adjustment in how we view and treat abuse. We must believe and support victims! Allowances can't be made lightly. But, when the course of law and the statements of victims tell us that it's over, let's allow it to be over. Let's cautiously leave room for change and growth on all levels.
The last thing Amber Heard said on the subject was that she wishes Johnny Depp the best. I am choosing to believe her. There is someone who abused me, for whom I now wish only wonderful things -- and when I say that, I hope that you will believe me, too.