Art & Artist
I’ll admit that I haven’t really been keeping up with news from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (see our staff’s thoughts about it on page 11). So it was quite a shocker for me to find out that Johnny Depp would be joining the cast as the dark wizard Grindelwald.
With his ugly divorce from Amber Heard — tainted with allegations of domestic violence and that crazy story about him cutting off the tip of his finger while drunk — still fresh in my mind, my first instinct was to recoil. Johnny Depp? In Harry Potter? Really? We couldn’t find anyone else?
“We cast Johnny because he’s a great actor. The decision was made before any of this came down,” said producer David Heyman to the New York Daily News. “One of the things I love about (J.K. Rowling’s) work is the theme of not judging people. And I’m not the judge.”
It won’t take long for you to find Harry Potter fans who feel quite the opposite.
It got me thinking. Is it possible to separate the artist from the art? Should we even try?
It’s not an easy question. Is it possible to look at Woody Allen’s vast, still-growing filmography and not think about Dylan Farrow’s child sexual abuse claims? Did Nate Parker deserve to be vilified, and his Birth of a Nation tainted, for a college rape accusation (of which he was found innocent)? What about Bill Cosby? How are we going to feel about Brad Pitt once his child custody battle with Angelina Jolie finishes?
On one hand, everyone is innocent until proven guilty. False or distorted accusations are not common, but they do happen. On the other, we’ve been reminded more than a few times this year (e.g., Brock Turner, Derrick Rose) that victims must carry their burden of proof through a very long, uphill battle to be taken seriously — and too often they are dismissed unfairly, vilified, and shamed into obscurity and pain.
I wish I could say that we should be able to view art as art, existing in a vacuum of pure creativity. But to remove art from context is to deprive it of meaning. Where, when and by whom something was made all matter in ways that we cannot so easily extricate from the work itself.
Dr. Strangelove is a product of the 1960s Cold War tension in America. Marilyn Monroe’s tragic life hangs like a shadow over all her performances. And Roman Polanski makes wonderful movies, but he also forced himself on a drugged 13-year-old girl and fled to Europe to avoid punishment.
Unsavory facts cannot be ignored because they make us uncomfortable.
More significantly, as consumers of art, to ignore these “inconvenient” details also is a stance taken against the victims — a way of saying that they do not matter, that their pain is irrelevant in the face of artistic talent, that a good movie is more important than being a good person.
So how do we negotiate these treacherous waters? The answer is neither boycott nor blind, thoughtless consumption. Decide where your money goes. Decide who is worthy of your attention. Our goal must always be to see beyond the surface veneers — to look past the magic and see the man standing just behind the curtain.