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Johnny Depp and the debate around ‘cancel culture’8 min read

May 9, 2022 5 min read


Johnny Depp and the debate around ‘cancel culture’8 min read

Reading Time: 5 minutes
Johnny Depp in court recently. Photo: Getty Images

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, there is no way you haven’t come across even the tiniest bit of news about actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. The court case these public figures are fighting has been on every news channel around the world, giving audiences a peak into their lives.

But we’re not here to talk about Johnny or Amber, nor about what happened in their personal lives. We’re here to talk about something important that happened amid all the fighting and legal processes.


Any idea what these two words mean? Or what it has to do with the Hollywood actors? Let’s start with a dictionary definition.

According to Merriam-Webster, ‘cancel culture’ is the practice or tendency of engaging in mass cancelling as a way of expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure.

Now coming back to Johnny and Amber. The two got divorced in 2017 on quite bad terms, and Amber wrote an article in a prominent publication where she accused her ex-husband of domestic violence (violence or physical abuse directed toward your spouse or domestic partner).

Depp supporters have made thousands of memes to show support.

The news was shocking to Johnny’s millions of fans who have grown up watching him in their favourite films. While some were in disbelief, others were outraged. And thus, Johnny became a part of ‘cancel culture’.

By this, we mean that he was denied film roles or replaced. Disney, which produces the mega franchise Pirates of the Caribbean and of which Johnny is the star, dropped him. He was also all set to play Grindelwald in the Fantastic Beasts movie, but was replaced after the public outrage caused by Amber’s article. He claims the accusations have led to a $40 million loss for him. He is suing his ex wife for exactly this reason to the tune of $50 million, and she is counter-suing him for $100 million.

Amber Heard in court.
Photo: Getty Images

Johnny and the people close to him have continuously denied these accusations, and are currently fighting it out in court in the US state of Virginia. Though he has not been legally termed ‘guilty’, the actor’s reputation and career have already suffered, and may not ever get back to what is was.

This, readers, is what ‘cancel culture’ is all about. And Johnny isn’t the first person this has happened to — it happens all the time to influential people in various fields, especially since the growth of social media.

So how did this phenomenon start? Let’s dive into the topic.

What does ‘cancel culture’ mean?

Cancel culture is highly debated. The idea that a person can be “canceled” or culturally blocked from having a prominent public platform or career has been around a long time, but only escalated when social media started to boom.

The pattern goes like this: A celebrity or other public figure does or says something offensive. A public backlash, often fuelled by social media, starts.

Then come the calls to cancel the person — that is, to effectively end their career, whether through boycotts of their work or disciplinary action from an employer or the law.

The idea of ‘cancelling’ someone has grown in prominence in recent years due to conversations prompted by #MeToo and other movements that demand greater accountability from public figures. As troubling information comes to light regarding celebrities who were once popular, so come calls to “cancel” such figures.

#MeToo is a social movement originating among women, who are advocating for survivors of harassment or violence to speak out about their experiences.

What is the purpose of cancel culture?

Cancel culture has received its fair share of support and backlash. Let’s look at the positives first.

Some people say that cancel culture allows less powerful people to have a voice, helps them hold others accountable when the justice system doesn’t work, and cancelling is a tool to bring about social change.

On the other side of the argument are people who say this amounts to online harassment and bullying, and can lead to violence and threats that is worse than what that person has been accused of or done. It is also argued that nothing productive comes out of ‘cancelling’, and that it does not bring about social change. They also say that it is not democratic, and leads to people being excluded. Cancel culture itself has been called out for cancelling free speech and for promoting a mob mentality. 

In the case of Johnny Depp, the argument is that everything that was said against him is hearsay, and that he has not been proven guilty by a court. Whereas, those is support of Amber say that women have for years been silenced by powerful men, and that they should have every right to speak up against abuse.

Is cancel culture an important tool of social justice or a new form of bullying? If canceling someone usually doesn’t have much measurable effect, does cancel culture even exist? Or does the very idea of being cancelled curb potentially bad behaviour?

Does it even exist?

Now some people are of the belief that cancel culture does not exist at all. This means to say that it has no real consequence. For example, an actor who has said something controversial is “cancelled” and loses out on some opportunities. However, time passes and their career springs back and there are no real consequences to what they have said or done in the past. Some times, the controversial thing they have said and all the hate they receive actually brings them more attention and screen time!

Non-believers of cancel culture say it might result in names trending on social media and more voices being heard, but the fact is that “victims” of cancel culture go on to experience continuing commercial success. Even those rare cases where a job is lost, it’s often that they never needed that job in the first place. A couple of millions down the drain? Oh, no problem!

Hold up — so what happens to Johnny Depp and Amber Heard? Didn’t this entire article start with them? Well, the case is still ongoing. Both parties are shedding light on their difficult time together. New online petitions are doing the rounds to “cancel” Amber and bring justice to Johnny — millions of people are rallying behind getting Amber removed from the Aquaman films.

Since legal proceedings are still ongoing and could go on for a while, all we can do is wait and watch. Innocent until proven guilty, right?

Sources: New York Times, Vox, The Atlantic, Indian Express, Merriam Webster, Britannica

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