Rowling’s statement shows that activist pressure works

Rowling’s statement, while inadequate, was the result of more and more fans calling her out.

J. K. Rowling’s statement on the controversy surrounding the casting of Johnny Depp highlighted that authors can be held to account. Since Depp’s casting was announced, there have been grave concerns about the wider implications since Depp was accused of assaulting his then wife, Amber Heard.

Heard has been widely discredited by fans, and even by those in strong positions within the industry, such as David Yates, the director of the latest from Fantastic Beasts. Yates dismissed concerns, along the lines that they weren’t in-line with the man he knows. But abusers are subtle. If the Weinstein scandal and subsequent allegations around others have shown anything, it’s that abusers can be the most popular guy in the room. Fans have also dismissed Heard despite photograph documentation of injuries and video footage of Depp violently destroying part of his home. The evidence though never matters as much as whether people want to believe allegations or not. It must also be remembered that studies have found bi women are more likely to be the victims of intimate partner violence (as well as sexual assault, stalking and harassment).

“But abusers are subtle, if the Weinstein scandal and subsequent allegations around others have shown anything, it’s that abusers can be the most popular guy in the room”

Heard understandably may want privacy after such an ordeal and with fans speculating about her, but there is a way to respect such privacy without then casting Depp in one of the biggest roles going. Much is wrong with Rowling’s statement, but the fact she made it at all shows the pressure she is now feeling.

Rowling was silent when she was accused of appropriating Native American culture. Rowling initially said she was “delighted” with the casting of Depp when first asked, and this too was when concerns were first raised which seemingly contradicts the most recent statement where Rowling claimed she was not able to speak fully on the issue. She had initially spoken on the issue. Whether it was fully can not be known, but the most recent statement raises questions about her initial reaction when asked. Did she feel under pressure? Was that part of not speaking openly? Rowling’s murky statement does not give full answers, but that is not out of line with what has been shown so far. Rowling too was silent after she apparently liked a tweet that contained a link to an article that contained transphobia. The article itself expressed concern about trans women being allowed to access cis women’s spaces. It was a hyperbolic article, without basis in fact. Liking a tweet does not necessarily mean endorsement but fans were left to speculate again over Rowling’s supposed solidarity. Rowling isn’t particularly forthcoming when she’s questioned in a more critical manner. Indeed, a story emerged of how she allegedly blocked a fan for raising concerns at all about Depp’s casting. It was just days later that the statement about the controversy was released.

It was the constant pressure around the story that prompted the statement. Fans who wouldn’t let it go. Fans who kept questioning and kept pointing out how Rowling was letting them down. Too often the media focused on sweet tweets about how nobody should be forced to live in a closet, rather than actually calling out Rowling and asking serious questions about the franchise.

Let’s be clear – Rowling is an author and it’s unclear how much say she herself has over the casting. That could be out of her hands. But it matters what she thinks because she helms the entire franchise. Her silence was complicit. Her statement was foul and a disgrace to women, but it was activists and fans who made her speak at all. It was the constant pressure that forced Rowling to try to take accountability. It will be activists and fans too who again will decide whether Rowling has more to answer, and whether her brand will pay the price for the author’s lack of solidarity or understanding.

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