Superstore has always had a few important weapons in its arsenal. It stars America Ferrera, for one, and she’s wonderful in everything she does. It’s got a cast of characters who all seem to occupy their own zany universes, and the show has an interest in insightful conversations about important issues affecting the American working class. It also has the most valuable commodity of all: a will-they-or-won’t-they romance between two people with killer chemistry, a cornerstone of the workplace comedy. From the very first episode, Superstore let us know that Amy (Ferrera) and Jonah (Ben Feldman) have a connection to watch. And with the Season 3 finale, which aired Thursday night, they’re finally paying that off in a big, sexy, messy way.
The will-they-or-won’t-they is one of the most enduring tropes in television for a reason. It’s gripping in a way suspenseful spy dramas could never approach. The simple question of when or if two people will get their shit together and admit their feelings can serve as a nuclear reactor for a series: It can power the whole damn thing.
Think of some of the classics: Luke and Lorelai on Gilmore Girls; Jim and Pam on the US version of The Office, and Tim and Dawn on the UK version; Alicia and Will on The Good Wife; and Mulder and Scully on The X-Files. More recently, there’s Dylan and Evie on Lovesick; Chidi and Eleanor on The Good Place; and Liza and Charles on Younger. A good will-they-or-won’t-they — a desperation that builds over time — has an electricity that passes from the screen into you. Done right, a will-they-or-won’t-they can eat your heart alive.
Superstore, for its part, has been torturing its audience for three seasons, albeit in a pretty fun way. Now, the time has come. The characters have taken a crucial step, even though we’re still left dangling on a cliff, unclear about what will happen next.
Amy and Jonah have been dancing around each other throughout Superstore’s entire run, with staggered moments of release that just led to more frustration and unresolved tension. In the Season 2 finale, a tornado hit their store, and Amy grabbed Jonah, kissing him in a moment when she thought they were about to die. In Season 3, the writers gave Jonah a girlfriend (Kelly, played by Kelly Stables), so that when Amy finally admitted she had a crush on Jonah, it was too late. Amy and Jonah are classic examples of the will-they-or-won’t-they at its most compelling: One zigs, the other zags, but the pining is constant even when the characters have no idea it’s there.
Things stayed bottled up until the second half of this season when a video of their tornado kiss was played in front of all of their coworkers. Everything was out in the open, but Jonah was still in that relationship with Kelly. To complicate things further, a few episodes later Amy found out that she was pregnant after a one-night stand with her ex-husband. Swept up in emotion after that revelation, she kissed Jonah again — and then told him the news. In the season’s penultimate episode, the two had their biggest fight yet, their feelings for each other tied up with a palpable frustration that those feelings had never panned out into anything more.
It’s been a bumpy road for Amy and Jonah — and for the fans perched at the edge of their seats waiting to see if the writers would actually pay off years of tension. And for most of the season finale, they don’t. The focus of the episode is elsewhere, on a town hall meeting being hosted at their store and broadcast live to Cloud 9 locations around the world. Amy and Jonah’s fight and their kiss don’t come to the foreground until the episode’s final moments. When they do — and oh, they do — it’s not a neat, tidy kind of culmination. Instead, it’s a kiss that quickly spirals into a hookup. They undress each other, unaware that the cameras for the town hall have automatically switched back on. As Amy and Jonah have sex for the first time — the climax (heh) to three years of buildup — it’s not just the audience watching, it’s their coworkers and shoppers in Cloud 9 stores everywhere.
Amy and Jonah’s hookup is hardly a guarantee that everything will be smooth sailing for them from here on out. If anything, the scene is confirmation that things are about to get more complicated. After all, she’s pregnant by another man, and thousands of people just watched them have sex. Maybe they’ll slide right from there into a loving relationship — or maybe they’ll be as obstinate as they’ve always been and spin this incident into even more reasons they shouldn’t be together. They might get fired, or they might live happily ever after. Regardless of where the writers take Season 4, there’s no undoing this step.
Superstore’s season finale is a reminder of what’s so thrilling about the will-they-or-won’t-they trope. Love and lust are messy, and will-they-or-won’t-they arcs demand acknowledgment of that fact. Obstacles like timing and circumstance are the biggest villains in these relationships, and it’s exhilarating to watch two people try to overcome them on the path to loving each other. And when the dam does break and the two characters decide to take the plunge, they might find themselves swimming upstream — especially when one of them’s knocked up and the show has already been renewed for a fourth season.
Amy and Jonah have some obstacles in their way. But we’re — uh, pardon the pun — over the hump now. These two people can no longer deny that they are very into each other. Now they just have to figure out what to do with that.
The basic concept of Blockers sounds like typical sex comedy fare with a parental twist. Directed by Pitch Perfect writer Kay Cannon, the film follows three parents (Leslie Mann, John Cena, and Ike Barinholtz) as they perform a series of high jinks to stop their three children (Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, and Gideon Adlon) from going through with a pact to have sex for the first time on prom night. The film’s trailers have given a certain impression: This is a broad, sexed-up comedy centered on these three adults as they struggle with the fact that their daughters are sexual beings.
That’s a movie that could go in one of two directions — a retrograde morality play hung up on concepts of virginity and purity, or a thoughtful meditation on parenting and the pressure society puts on girls. Luckily for us all, Blockers chooses the latter, with a lot of classic R-rated comedy raunch thrown in.
Yes, this is a film in which Cena chugs beer through his asshole. But Blockers is not only concerned with the parents. The movie is just as centered on their daughters — three young women with very different perspectives and priorities, all committed to maintaining agency over their own lives, identities, and sexualities. And one of them — Sam, portrayed by Adlon — is going through something pretty intense. While her two friends are looking to have sex because, well, they feel like it, Sam enters into the pact out of fear that her bond with her best friends will fade away after high school if she doesn’t share this big experience with them. She’s not particularly interested in having sex with her date, a fedora-wearing but nice-seeming young man named Chad (Jimmy Bellinger). In fact, Sam is gay. When we first meet her she hasn’t figured out how to fully admit that to herself, let alone how to tell anyone else in her life. Her crush on a female classmate goes unspoken, and she funnels her energy into photoshopping herself into photos with Xena the Warrior Princess.
Her dad, though, already knows. Hunter, played by Barinholtz, figured it out through some strong parental instinct long before his daughter told anyone. It’s a driving force behind his role in the parental plot. The other two parents are consumed by a desire to preserve their virginal visions of their little girls and control over their daughters’ lives. Hunter, on the other hand, just worries that by sleeping with a man, Sam would be having an inauthentic experience. He wants to stop her from running away from who she really is. It’s a moving story that cuts through the obscenity that surrounds it. It might even leave you a little teary.
All the evidence you need that queer representation is still scarce in major studio films lies in the fact that a movie like Love, Simon only came out this year. That film was released only a month before Blockers and was the first studio-made teen romantic comedy centered on a gay character. If that’s the ground we’re still breaking in 2018, then Sam’s storyline in Blockers marks a relatively rare occasion.
The genre has been far more likely to mock queerness than to actually portray a central lesbian character.
Historically, raunchy comedies in the vein of Baywatch, Get Hard, The Hangover, CHiPs, and so many more have returned again and again to gay panic jokes. Though the details shift, the basics stay the same: Characters are repulsed by the simple thought that someone else might think they’re queer. It’s played for laughs time and again, functioning as bait to the anti-gay (and anti-trans) sentiment ingrained in the audience. A same-sex flirt, a kiss, a shared bed, the existence of a penis near another character’s penis — these are treated as things to be avoided at all costs. The genre has been far more likely to mock queerness than to actually portray a central lesbian character, let alone one whose journey to self-acceptance is so tenderly rendered.
In Blockers, Sam’s inner tug-of-war is the film’s most compelling conflict. As she and her friends move through prom and a series of afterparties, you feel the tension inherent in her situation. Will she finally make a move on the dreamy drama student she’s crushing on, played by Ramona Young (who rocks a pretty great cape)? Will her date be understanding? Will her relationship with her friends change? Sam’s story is one of a young woman on the brink of something revelatory, thrilling, and terrifying. Her father spends the majority of the film trying to find his way to her, thoroughly committed to helping her on this journey.
Spoiler alert: Sam eventually does accept her attraction to women. She has a sweet talk with her father, who lets her come out to him without revealing that he knew all along. She tells her friends; she gets the girl. Cannon has made it clear — whether through interviews or tweeted videos of her and her young daughter dancing — that Blockers is an ode both to parenthood and girlhood alike. In the film’s two other major storylines, that means accepting your daughter as a complex person who is going to have sex and make her own decisions. It’s about these parents building up the courage and perspective to let their kids be who they are going to be.
Hunter needs to let go too, through allowing Sam to figure out on her own exactly how she wants to reveal this part of herself to the people around her. But there’s also something else there — this throughline of anxious hope that you’ve provided your children with all the courage they need to be exactly who they are. So often, emotional resonance gets lost in risqué studio comedies. It’s refreshing that this one didn’t shy away from feelings or queerness, considering how aggressively heterosexual sex comedies have been in the past. Sam gets her happy ending in finally being able to truly see herself. With Blockers, audiences get one too.
On My Block, which premiered on Netflix on March 16, follows a formula that’s already pretty beloved: A group of teens who’ve been friends for a while start high school together. Along the way they try to figure out themselves, one another, and the world. As a show, On My Block is at once irreverent, sweet, and bold. It also feels like a much-needed addition to the classic genre of teen ensemble dramedies.
The teens in this particular show live in inner-city Los Angeles, with all the positives and negatives that come with that. In the pilot, Monse (Sierra Capri) returns from writing camp to find that two of her closest friends are suddenly on bad terms with the fourth member of the group — Cesar (Diego Tinoco), who over the summer was pushed into gang life by his brother. The four set out to find a way to get him out of his situation. But they’re also dealing with the basic (and eternal) questions teen shows are built on — questions like how to navigate high school, new romances, changing bodies, changing libidos, and teen awkwardness.
As one character’s big brother says in the show’s first episode, “Don’t go into high school without back up. You guys need to stick together to survive. Got it?” That’s an eternal formula right there.
Terry Crews says he didn’t plan for it to happen like this. Five days after the New York Times published a bombshell report on allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Harvey Weinstein, and five days before the #MeToo movement found new energy, Crews took a moment between shooting scenes at work to send a series of tweets detailing his own experience allegedly being groped by a powerful Hollywood agent.
“I was on the set [of Brooklyn Nine-Nine], shaking,” Crews told BuzzFeed News of the moment he decided to go public with his experience. “I didn’t call my publicist, I didn’t call my friends, I didn’t call my manager, I didn’t call my wife. I just started tweeting.” In those first tweets, Crews recalled being groped at an industry party in 2016. He’d later name the man who allegedly did it as Adam Venit, an agent at William Morris Endeavor Entertainment (WME), and Crews is currently suing both Venit and the company. Venit represents some of the most famous actors in Hollywood, including Sylvester Stallone, Adam Sandler, and more. Crews said the incident itself took place at Sandler’s house. Venit has since apologized, and while the LAPD has declined to pursue a criminal case, Crews isn’t done speaking out. After all, why stop now?
Crews has had a feud with toxic masculinity — the idea that men are taught to adhere to specific, damaging gender roles — for years. He launched his battle via his 2014 book, Manhood: How to Be a Better Man — or Just Live With One. It was then that Crews declared himself a feminist on Larry King Now. It was also the era in which he began speaking publicly about his porn addiction, his stint in rehab to treat it, and his changing relationship to the ideals of “manliness.”
Four years after the release of his book, Crews is still making headlines about his relationship to toxic masculinity. Nowadays, though, the tenor of the narrative is different. In one of his initial tweets about his assault, Crews wrote about the fear that drives so many victims stay silent, especially in Hollywood. “Who is going 2 believe you? (few) What r the repercussions? (many) Do u want 2 work again? (Yes) R you prepared 2 be ostracized? (No).”
The decision to come forward about his experience came as a relief, according to Crews. But it also came at a cost. “Once I hit send, I literally felt this weight come off me,” he said. “I went back to work, and I turned my phone off. And when I came back to my phone, the world had changed.”
Six months later, Crews is still grappling with what those changes — from an ongoing legal battle to the perception of his peers — will mean for his life going forward.
Crews is no stranger to calling out institutions he views as harmful. He spent seven years in the NFL, which, as he told Arsenio Hall in 2013, carries with it a “culture of intimidation, humiliation, and violence.” He later echoed that on Hot 97 in 2017, also while talking about the NFL. “It’s an abusive relationship, you know why? Because they know you’re going to get hurt. It’s built in,” he said. He also knows what it’s like to lose access to those powerful behemoths. When Crews left the NFL in 1997, he had only six months worth of savings to his name. He assumed he’d get the Hollywood work he wanted right away because of the platform the NFL gave him. Instead, he took a job sweeping floors to make ends meet until he got a part on Battle Dome in 1999.
Now, Crews has been enmeshed in Hollywood for nearly 20 years. It’s a relationship that’s currently in a state of flux, precisely because he has refused to stay silent. According to Crews, the way people in the industry interact with him has shifted palpably since the day he went public with his accusation against Venit. “I walk in the room, and the room is split right down the middle,” he said. “It just divides right there. It’s kind of like lightning.” On one figurative side are the people who root for Crews and his place in the #MeToo movement, people who applaud him as a silence breaker. On the other are the people who would really like Crews to shut up.
Shutting up has historically been the only option for actors who believe they’ve been wronged but want to continue to work in Hollywood. Most of their stories are likely still unspoken, though in 2017 that started to change one story at a time. In November, Hilarie Burton accused One Tree Hill creator Mark Schwahn of harassing and assaulting her. Burton left the series after her contract ran out in season six, and refused to be considered for starring roles in other shows for years after. “The fear of being forced into another one of these situations was crippling,” she told Variety. She also noted that she didn’t tell anyone at Warner Bros. Television, the studio that produced One Tree Hill, about the misconduct. “I didn’t want Warner Bros. to view me as a problem, because they had been so supportive,” she said. “I wanted to work at Warner Bros. again. I’m working at Warner Bros. now.” In Hollywood, the fear of being labeled “difficult” or a “problem” is palpable, ongoing, and one of the most effective means of keeping people quiet. This has proven especially true for women and people of color, who’ve faced systemic obstacles to both entering and staying in Hollywood.
Crews notes that there are plenty of people who’ve been keeping their distance from him ever since he first spoke about his assault. “It’s because if you’ve got any kind of sympathy for these toxic dudes then you don’t even want to be around me,” Crews speculates. “Because I will put you on blast.”
And he has done just that. When Russell Simmons allegedly emailed Crews telling him he should “give [Venit] a pass,” Crews called that behavior out on Twitter. He did the same when Avi Lerner, a producer for the Expendables movies, allegedly called Crews’ management and said he could avoid any “problems” with the sequel if he dropped his lawsuit against Venit. And he’s constantly speaking out about WME, especially since Venit returned to work there with a demotion after being suspended for a month. (Simmons and Lerner did not respond to requests for comment.)
A few weeks after revealing Venit’s identity on Good Morning America, Crews filed a sexual assault and battery lawsuit against both Venit and WME. In court papers submitted to the Los Angeles Superior Court and obtained by the Hollywood Reporter, representatives for WME present the agency’s side of the story. They say that though Venit called to apologize to Crews after the incident, Crews did not inform senior management of the allegations until he tweeted about it in October. They also point to the fact that Crews stayed with the agency until November 2017, which Crews has attributed to his initial desire to “let it go” and move on — a desire that changed after the Weinstein accusations went public. As Crews told BuzzFeed News, it was seeing the negative public treatment of the women who’d accused Weinstein that prompted him to speak about his own assault. For him, it was an act of solidarity that spiraled into something more.
In a particularly fascinating excerpt of the court papers, representatives for WME also accuse Crews of trying to “equate himself with the women and men who have been forced, sometimes repeatedly and over an extended period, to submit to sex or endure sexual harassment to keep their jobs or advance their careers, while the perpetrators and others who knew about it looked the other way.” It’s a statement that implies that Crews’ experience doesn’t fall into the exact right rubric of misconduct to count. It’s also antithetical to the spirit of the #MeToo movement. The movement has never been about everyone having shared the exact same scenarios of assault or harassment. Instead, it’s been about highlighting just how common, deeply ingrained, and hard to shake these types of mistreatment are. And isn’t that just what Crews was doing when he sent those tweets on Oct. 10?
“People don’t understand that Hollywood is a very violent place. The best way to put it is that it’s like a plantation.”
Crews dropped WME as his agency after coming forward with the allegation. But as part of the standard agency contract, Crews is still required to pay WME a portion of his profits from any project he made while signed with them. “What business [is this] that you can do something like that to another human being, and I still have to pay you?” he said. “Everybody feels like that’s OK. But this is not right. There are no checks and balances. There is no one to watch you. And given what he did to me, imagine some young girl, and an agent rapes them, and they’re on a show or whatever, and they still got to pay this guy.”
Crews suggests that a morality clause written into contracts could help avoid that kind of situation. “If you cross this line, why are you still getting money? Why are you still working?”
This is not Crews’ first rodeo when it comes to pushback for speaking his mind. The actor said the publishers of his 2014 book Manhood — Zinc Ink, an imprint of Random House — “poo-pooed” his desire to write about toxic masculinity back when he was writing. “[They were] kind of like, Ugh, really? You really wanna do this?” he said. “I think they were expecting some kind of guys’ guy book, and I think they were a little disappointed.” According to Crews, he had a two-book deal that never turned into a second book. A spokesperson for Zinc Ink sent BuzzFeed News the following statement in response: “We were committed to working with Terry to deliver a book that shared his unvarnished story which defines how he views manhood while providing the reader an emotional and inspiring glimpse into the true heart of one of today’s biggest stars. We are extremely proud of Manhood, Terry, and all that he has done to spark a new and meaningful conversation that challenges the traditional notion of what it means to be a man.”
Regardless of the book’s editing process, Crews committed to his vision of it and used the book tour as a platform to speak about feminism and masculinity. He’s determined to educate the world, even if his own employers aren’t willing to listen. His is in a position familiar to many feminists who’d railed against harmful systemsfor years before the allegations against Weinstein activated a sort of reckoning. Asked if his perspective has changed since he wrote his book, Crews said, “It wasn’t that it changed. It was more that I was validated.”
On top of his lawsuit against WME and Venit, Crews also filed a report with the Los Angeles Police, which opened an investigation into the incident. In February, the LA district attorney’s office declined to file charges because of lack of evidence that Venit made contact with Crews’ skin during the alleged groping, which would have classified the crime as a felony. The case was then passed on to the LA city attorney’s office, which handles misdemeanors. In March, the city attorney’s office declined the case because the statute of limitations of one year had passed. All the while, Crews says he’s had to keep paying the agency he blames for not holding his alleged assailant accountable.
He’s also still waiting on some phone calls: Crews said he hasn’t heard anything from Lerner or the rest of the Expendables team since he called out the producer on Twitter.
“No words from anybody. Nothing,” Crews said. “Believe me, nobody saw that coming. Nobody thought that I was gonna put that out there.” For him, it all plays into a bigger picture of what’s broken in Hollywood. “People don’t understand that Hollywood is a very violent place,” he continued. “The best way to put it is that it’s like a plantation. You use extreme violence. You see a lot of people who never work again. For even speaking up the whole thing is that they cut your head off so that the next person doesn’t speak.”
“If this is the end of my career, just end it now.”
But Crews isn’t backing down, even if the repercussions start piling up. “What I’ve been doing is just exposing. If this is the end of my career, just end it now,” he said. “Cause I’m gonna keep living, I’m gonna keep doing my thing. But if I don’t do another Expendables, then let’s not do another one. I’m OK with that.”
The expectation that his outspokenness might endanger his career is not unfounded. It’s a narrative that’s all over Hollywood, from Mo’Nique, to Brendan Fraser, to Megan Fox — who have all been pushed to the margins after various events changed their relationships to Hollywood’s power structure.
After the story of the Weinstein allegations broke, the Times published the stories of six women who’d felt intimidated or silenced by their workplaces both in and out of Hollywood. One woman — who goes only by the initials A.A. — said she sued for harassment by a director and was made to sign a gag order in order to settle the case. Another, whose name is withheld, said she worked as a crew member in the industry and was fired and blacklisted after reporting misconduct at the hands of her supervisor. “When I complained to human resources, they put me ‘on trial,’ making it sound like I had fabricated the incidents to retaliate for me being fired,” she said.
It’s too early to tell if Crews will lose out on any jobs, Expendables or otherwise. And though some may appear to be avoiding him, not everyone in Hollywood is ghosting Crews — or rooting for him to stop talking. Imani Hakim, who worked with him for four years on Everybody Hates Chris, told BuzzFeed News that her support is unwavering. She said that she thanked Crews the last time she saw him, at the NAACP Image Awards. “It just requires a lot of bravery for him to be speaking up about something like that, especially being a man and a man of color,” she said. “And I know the possibilities of backlash he’s probably receiving, and the potential threats coming from higher powers. I’ve definitely been following along.”
“I feel like my whole career was basically for this moment.”
Crews is thoroughly unsurprised by the pushback he’s witnessed and experienced by certain people in the industry. “I understand masculinity. My years in the NFL, years out here, all this stuff, years in the hood, you get it,” he said. “And you know how wrong it is. I can’t be silent. I feel like my whole career was basically for this moment.”
Recently, news broke that Crews will have to undergo a mental health examination as part of his lawsuit against Venit. Sources close to the situation confirm this, while also noting that this is normal procedure in cases where the plaintiff is alleging emotional distress as part of the damages. News of the examination, though, prompted director Paul Feig to tweet his support of Crews, writing that “this is a disgraceful way of treating any victim of assault or abuse.” Crews retweeted the message with the prayer hands emoji.
“Let me tell you, if you have a good mindset and you’re on the right side, there’s nothing to fear,” Crews told BuzzFeed News. “But right now, if you’re trying to get over and control people and use people, and be sneaky and dirty, your days are limited.”
Regardless of what anyone throws his way, Crews seems determined to keep the conversation going. Whether that will prove damaging to his career is yet to be seen, though people on and off the record told BuzzFeed News they would still work with Crews or urge their clients to work with him. And besides, for Crews that doesn’t seem to be the point — he’s willing to make the sacrifice, even though he knows he shouldn’t have to. And though some in Hollywood may treat his conviction with disdain, it’s also one of many driving forces that transformed last October’s Weinstein story from a moment into an ongoing movement.
“They don’t want to see me comment, but I’m not going anywhere,” Crews said of his relationship to Hollywood these past few months. “They lead this thing through shame. [They] shame you so you feel like you gotta hide in the house. …[But] once you get rid of shame, you get to step off the slave plantation. And I get to be free. This is a good thing.” ●
Mar. 15, 2018, at 17:12 PM
WME submitted papers to the Los Angeles Superior Court. A previous version of this article misidentified the court.
Alanna Bennett is an entertainment reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Though the main narrative of this year’s Golden Globes was centered on the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, this year’s Oscars focused much more on, well, the movies and the people who made them. Except for an impassioned speech by Frances McDormand that called on all the female nominees of the night to stand up — and told everyone in Hollywood to demand an “inclusion rider” — not many of the speeches made political turns. And whereas Time’s Up made big shows on the red carpets of the Golden Globes, Grammys, and BAFTAs, there was no major show of solidarity planned for Hollywood’s biggest event of the year.
Overall, Hollywood let the Oscars go by with a palpable shortage of reference to one of the industry’s biggest issues.
Amber Tamblyn knows what she wants. She’s a woman of strong convictions, her beliefs couched in the wryness and warmth that she radiates. And if you rub Tamblyn the wrong way— say, by buying into centuries-old misogynistic ideals — she’ll confront you, head-on, in her own way. Which is why one of the first things Tamblyn did when Harvey Weinstein’s decades of alleged sexual abuses were exposed in early October was call her old friend Quentin Tarantino, and ask him to dinner to talk some things out.
“I very much made a pointed effort,” Tamblyn told me on the occasion of our second meeting, in an emptied-out midtown cigar club in early December. After Weinstein’s fall, everyone in the producer’s circle — directors, actors, agents, board members — found themselves under fire, accused of being complicit in the harassment and/or assault of at least 70 women. Tarantino, for his part, had worked closely with Weinstein since the early ’90s; the producer was a complicated father figure to Tarantino’s fabled auteur. “I was able to just sit and be a real sounding board for him,” she said, adding that Tarantino “understood in that moment how severe the accusations were” but that he “was also really blindsided by it, by the scope of it.”
Tamblyn’s goal was to listen — but also to guide. “I more or less told him what I would tell any man, which is to own the way in which you were complicit in this,” she said. “Own your complacency. Say it.” As she wrote on Twitter shortly after their dinner, Tamblyn viewed it as a “come to Jesus conversation.” The crux of her stance was the importance of facing one’s sins; of speaking out publicly as a crucial step in how the industry moves forward in dealing with toxicity and rape culture. So Tamblyn connected Tarantino with Jodi Kantor, one of the New York Times journalists who reported out the Weinstein story. (Tarantino has confirmed this.)
“I feel like that would be the title of my memoir someday: Helping Them Get There.” She paused, then added a subtitle: “The Story of Men.”
Tamblyn wanted Tarantino to face the woman who had spoken to Weinstein’s alleged victims while reporting the story. “I felt like that was a really important full circle that he needed to come to.” As a result of her guidance, Tarantino issued a statement on Weinstein through Tamblyn’s social media. He also talked to Kantor for an interview in which he said, among other things, that when it came to Weinstein, he’d known “enough to do more than [he] did.”
“It was just sort of about helping him get there,” Tamblyn said. “I feel like that would be the title of my memoir someday: Helping Them Get There.” She paused, then added a subtitle: “The Story of Men.”
An actor, poet, director, and soon-to-be-published novelist, Tamblyn has been a citizen of Hollywood her entire life. The daughter of Peyton’s Place, West Side Story, and Twin Peaks actor Russ Tamblyn and singer-songwriter Bonnie Murray Tamblyn, she started working in show business at the age of 11. Tamblyn spent her formative years on the set of General Hospital, followed by a stretch on the set of Joan of Arcadia in her early twenties. Later, through the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movies, she harnessed the potent nostalgia of young women who came of age in the ’00s. She’s published three poetry books and directed a movie (Paint It Black starring Alia Shawkat, which hits Netflix Feb. 1). She’s also writtenextensively on the subject of women’s statusin politicsand Hollywood, and campaigned hard for Hillary Clinton in both 2008 and 2016.
“Obviously we’re in this watershed moment, but I don’t think that it changes the way that Amber [is speaking out],” comedian Aisha Tyler told me in December. She and Tamblyn bonded four years ago when they were both preparing to direct their first features. “Feminists have been saying the same things for a very long time, and now we’re reaching critical mass,” Tyler said.
“Even prior to this culminating moment, Amber’s always been really fearless, and unrelenting.”
Tamblyn also puts a high premium on female anger: Since the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States in 2016, it’s the main emotion that has fueled her actions. “I am pro-anger,” she told me multiple times when we met in October. “I am anti-passivity.”
Author Roxane Gay, who works with Tamblyn on an ongoing reading series called Feminist As Fuck, said she finds Tamblyn “really interesting.” “She’s really, really warm. She’s very funny. And very generous,” Gay said. “She’s always trying to connect people, and she knows everyone. It’s always astounding how many people she knows and how effectively she can just get shit done.” One of the things Gay admires about Tamblyn is the way she asserts herself, assessing what she thinks a given situation needs. “She’s very smart about when to use her voice, and also how, and where,” Gay said.
And when misogyny and sexual abuses in Hollywood took center stage in the national conversation, Tamblyn dove in.
Three weeks before the New York Times’ Weinstein story went live, Tamblyn replied to a tweet about the actor James Woods after actor Armie Hammer had gotten into a tiff with him on Twitter. Woods had denounced the age difference in the queer romance Call Me by Your Name and hashtagged the tweet #NAMBLA, in reference to the North American Man/Boy Love Association that works to abolish age of consent laws. Hammer had struck back with reference to Woods’ previous relationship with Ashley Madison — who was 19 when she and Woods, then 59, started dating.
Tamblyn knew Hammer from their time filming 2008’s Blackout, a horror film about three people trapped in an elevator. She considered him an old friend. So when she saw the quote-tweet on her timeline, she took a peek. “I thought, I know Armie, so I opened it and looked at the chain,” Tamblyn told me. “I thought, Oh my god, I remember that guy [Woods], and I tweeted the thing. There was no big intention behind it.”
In 138 characters, Tamblyn shared her own experience: “James Woods tried to pick me and my friend up at a restaurant once,” she wrote. “He wanted to take us to Vegas. ‘I’m 16’ I said. ‘Even better’ he said.”
The story blew up, her tweet racking up over 10,000 retweets and over 37,000 likes. On Twitter, Woods called Tamblyn’s allegation “a lie.” Tamblyn responded with an open letter to Woods published on Teen Vogue and an op-ed in the New York Times titled “I’m Done With Not Being Believed.” The op-ed, with its fairly self-explanatory title, concludes with this: “The women I know, myself included, are done … playing the credentials game. We are learning that the more we open our mouths, the more we become a choir. And the more we are a choir, the more the tune is forced to change.” (Woods did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)
Tamblyn didn’t plan for the Woods situation to spiral into op-ed territory. “I probably would have just let it go,” she said. “But to make a big fuss, and then call me a liar? He just fucked with the wrong one.” In the process, Tamblyn and Woods both became the faces of a mini reckoning that happened to take place just before the Weinstein investigations would inspire a much more massive cultural moment and movement.
The first time Tamblyn and I met, in mid-October, the air was thick with the kind of energy that’s born when pain meets long-awaited catharsis. The topic taking over headlines — of sexual misconduct embedded in some of our mostfamous institutions — came up naturally. Specifically, it entered the conversation when Tamblyn brought up how poetry sustained her through life as a child star.
“People always ask me how much acting has informed my activism, or my artistry, or my filmmaking, or my writing,” she said. “But it is poetry, fundamentally, that has informed those things.”
“People always ask me how much acting has informed my activism, or my artistry, or my filmmaking, or my writing,” she said. “But it is poetry, fundamentally, that has informed those things. I was able to find myself through my ability to speak towards the things I didn’t quite understand yet because I was so young. Things about sexism, and misogyny, about a business that endemically does not care about women.”
Free Stallion, her first book of poetry, was published by Simon & Schuster in 2005. It compiled poems Tamblyn had written between the ages of 11 and 21. “It’s very raw, and nubile almost,” she said, noting that the book is “filled with someone who knows that they’re angry about a system but isn’t sure why yet.”
And that brings us to the current reckoning, propelled by Hollywood and spread across various industries. “This is a big conversation, because we’re talking about a lot of very attractive white women who are suddenly getting a [long-existing] narrative to be talked about, and that’s difficult,” Tamblyn said. “At the same time, these are people who have been forced through a patriarchal system to be part of that system as far as representing what women should or shouldn’t be. That’s not a thing where you can say, ‘Reese, why didn’t you fix that?’ That’s on no woman. That’s on no woman.”
For Tamblyn, the stories of abuse and misogyny in Hollywood brought up memories of her own. As she told me and wrote in a Times op-ed before the Golden Globes, when she was 23 and preparing to star in The Grudge 2, the film’s director, Takashi Shimizu, pulled her aside three weeks before production and suggested she lose five pounds. At that point, her weight was somewhere in the 120s. “I’m 5’7”,” she told me. “There’s a time in which that wasn’t funny to me — and now it’s funny, because it was so ridiculous.” (Shimizu did not respond to requests for comment.)
Tamblyn also wrote about her own assault, posting about it on Instagram during the 2016 election when Trump’s comments on grabbing women by the pussy went public. As she describes it, an ex-boyfriend grabbed her by her vagina and forcibly carried her out of a club.
“Women, especially actresses, don’t speak about [abuses] because you’re trained not to,” Tamblyn said. Even Tamblyn, who’s long been vocal, had a moment of panic after her allegation against Woods made news. On the phone with her agent, Tamblyn asked: “‘Did I just fuck up? Did I just hurt my career?’” Her agent, Nancy Gates at UTA, comforted her. “She adamantly said, ‘No, the opposite. Truly the opposite,’” Tamblyn said. “I’m fortunate to have a very powerful, amazing female agent who’s not afraid of stuff like that. But I’ve been around long enough and have been with agents who are.”
In 2016, while heavily pregnant, Tamblyn toured from state to state trying her hardest to make the first female president happen. “That was its own morbidity,” she said of being pregnant during that time. She even went on Lip Sync Battle with her best friend and fellow activist America Ferrera, dressed as an orange-faced Trump and gyrating to “I Wanna Sex You Up.” And when Clinton lost — and Trump won — Tamblyn says it radicalized her. “There’s just no other way of putting it,” she said. “And part of that radicalization is that I actually now will choose to believe the woman first without evidence. And I actually want to go from that. I want the man to prove he’s innocent. And that’s a very dangerous stance to take, I understand, but I don’t trust the American judicial system to tell us.”
“People are tired of hearing them? Great. Keep talking,” she said.
It’s a stance very much born out of everything she’s witnessed. “The elephant has been in the room for so long,” Tamblyn said, hands in the air. As she put it, that’s not something you can undo in a few weeks — or a few months. But for her, the sheer force of so many people speaking out with their stories and demanding people finally hear them is key to eliciting change. She applauds the bombardment of the airwaves, the social media feeds, the media. “People are tired of hearing them? Great. Keep talking,” she said. On the flip side, Tamblyn recalls friends texting her in tears as #MeToo posts took over Facebook — they were learning for the first time what their mothers or other loved ones had endured. “This is fucking painful,” Tamblyn said. “And while it’s also painful that it’s taken a movement like this for this to happen, and it feels late, it’s here now. So let’s all capitalize on it together, and let’s all keep talking about how to keep this dialogue going.”
Asked if her tendency to speak her mind has affected her career, Tamblyn said she doesn’t really know. “Perhaps it’s harmed me, perhaps it hasn’t,” she said. “It’s hard for me to say. I do know that it’s definitely a freeing experience, at the very least.” These days, it’s one that more and more people both in and out of Hollywood are taking part in.
Actress and comedian Charlyne Yi shared her own story in mid-October, also about an incident with a man in a position of power. The man in question was David Cross, Tamblyn’s husband of five years. As Yi wrote on Twitter, it all occurred 10 years ago. She met Cross; he made fun of her pants. When she looked at him dumbfounded, he said, ‘What’s a matter? You don’t speak English?? Ching-chong-ching-chong.” When she was offended by this, she said, he put on a Southern accent and asked if she was “going to fight with him karate.”
The story spread rapidly, occupying a similar space as the experiences of sexual harassment that were populating the news cycle — only this time the allegations involved racial misconduct.
Cross responded to Yi’s story on Twitter: “I’m truly sorry if I hurt her, it was never my intention to do that,” he wrote. “I reached out to her privately and expressed that and more, including the possibility that we are both misremembering *exactly* what happened that night?” In a follow-up statement the next day, Cross expressed his own theory: that he’d been doing “some asshole redneck racist character” bit that Yi did not pick up on, and that he hadn’t realized that Yi was upset.
It wasn’t long before Tamblyn’s social media followers started pushing her to weigh in on the situation. Tamblyn responded that she’d spoken to Yi herself. “Her feelings/safety are all that matter to me,” she wrote. “We’re good. I owe you nothing, Twitter. You’re lucky to have me.” In another tweet, she wrote: “I’ll say it again. I spoke to Charlyne. I believe her. I’m about HER feelings/emotional health right now, not Twitter’s. That okay with you?”
Some took offense to Tamblyn’s response, holding her up as an example of white feminism. Others lauded her public belief in Yi’s side of the story as the right way to go — or at least a step up from Cross’s response. “I will say this for the last time,” Tamblyn wrote in another response. “Do not hold women accountable for the actions, decisions or words of their partners. Don’t. Do it.” Then she took a break from Twitter for a couple of weeks. “See you soon, you crazy, complex confluence of passion,” she wrote as her parting words.
“I’m grateful [for Twitter], but also at the same time, we got a lot of really awful threats,” Tamblyn told me. “And my child got threats. That was specifically why I checked out. Because while there are really great parts of, you know, what a collective voice like Twitter can do, people can be really disgusting and awful.” Yi also wrote on Twitter that she doesn’t support the insults and threats that Tamblyn and Cross had been getting. (Yi declined to comment on this story.)
Tamblyn now feels like she’s said all she wants to say about what happened. But in our conversation, she added that “two things can be true at once.” As she put it, “David can feel emphatically that what he did was not racist, or a racist gesture, and I believe that’s true. … I know that can be true for him. I also know that a joke that he might say to a Zach Galifianakis or a Michael Cera, when you say that to a young Asian-American woman, you have changed the conversation. Context is everything.”
“I think we need to sit in anger for a while, and that’s OK.”
Tamblyn also recalled something that stuck with her from her conversation with Yi. “One of the things she said to me was, ‘I’ve said this before. I told this story about this happening with David, and no one heard me, no one listened. I did not expect for this to happen. This was very intense for me, and I did not expect for this to go the way that it did,’” she said. “And that’s one of the great things, is that it did happen.” For Tamblyn, it was a sign of what was shifting in the mainstream conversation around women’s experiences. Though she’s torn about the whole situation and how it affected her family, it also showed her the possibilities of someone taking their story into their own hands and sharing it publicly, without the intermediary of a media outlet. “I hope that more women are able to just tell their stories publicly, and simply,” Tamblyn said.
It was all also good practice in Tamblyn’s belief that women’s anger deserves its time in the sun. “I think we need to sit in anger for a while, and that’s OK. I’m of that mind, I really am,” she said. “And even when I get called on my own shit, whether it’s white feminism, or people asking me to be held responsible for something my husband did, or whatever it is across the board, I accept it.”
“The anger has been deep for a long time, and now the volcano is erupting,” she continued. “I believe that that’s what it should do. …Whether or not that hurts you, or hurts me that you say it, we need to fucking hear it.”
Back in October, she also knew what she wanted the next step to be: “We have to apply action to the anger,” she said. As Gay and Tyler both noted, the desire to get shit done runs deep in Tamblyn. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but you have to start putting women, and especially women of color, in positions of power and authority immediately. Not in a while, but immediately.”
On Jan. 1, 2018, a group of women in Hollywood announced the Time’s Up initiative. The announcement came via an open letter signed by 300 women in Hollywood declaring that, well, time was up “on silence,” “on waiting,” and “on tolerating discrimination, harassment, and abuse.” It was an organized effort to eradicate sexual misconduct in the workplace — not just for women in Hollywood, but for women across every industry. According to Tamblyn, she’s been a part of the group “since the inception.”
“It started with a bunch of meetings,” she said. “I am Time’s Up, Meryl Streep is Time’s Up, Katie McGrath is Time’s Up, Shonda Rhimes is Time’s Up.”
Tamblyn describes the group as a grassrootscollective of women “who were just sort of tired of the norms.” They met in different cities — New York, Los Angeles, London — and plotted how to disrupt centuries of wrongdoing. They were interested in “not only the abuse of power,” according to Tamblyn, “but also the underrepresentation of women, and especially women of color and LGBTQ women and minority women.”
One of Time’s Up’s efforts so far is a legal defense fund created to support women who can’t afford the potential fallout of reporting workplace abuse. The fund has raised over $19 million so far. Other goals of the group include reaching gender parity in the leadership of Hollywood’s studios and talent agencies by 2020, as well as pushing for stronger legislation around workplace harassment. Time’s Up also pressed people to wear black to the Golden Globes as a visual show of solidarity. Additionally, several women involved walked the red carpet with non-Hollywood activists and advocates, turning the usual red carpet promotional interviews into a time for those women to spread their messages.
“I’ve never seen such hard work and dedication and action, and just understanding of what the greater common goal is. I’ve never been a part of something like that.”
McGowan, who has been instrumental in the movement against Hollywood abusers and whom Tamblyn counts as a friend, has roundly criticized Time’s Up. “What people see from the outside when they see the red carpet, I see behind the scenes. I know a lot of things,” McGowan said during a Television Critics Association panel in January. “I think a system that’s massively broken — that’s a Band-Aid to make yourselves feel better for what you’ve all known about and were silent witnesses to and/or participants in.” McGowan has spoken out specifically about the decision to wear black to the Globes — and about the involvement of the agency CAA, which McGowan tweeted “sent so many into the Monster’s Lair themselves.” Tamblyn responded to the dress code criticism on Twitter, writing, “Our movement is big. And any black dress is just the beginning of the darkness that will be drained from every industry across the country by the time we’re finished. That’s a promise.” Tamblyn also appears in McGowan’s upcoming E! show, Citizen Rose. (McGowan declined to comment on this story.)
For Tamblyn, Time’s Up has been an affirming experience. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said. “I’ve never seen such hard work and dedication and action, and just understanding of what the greater common goal is. I’ve never been a part of something like that.”
As of publication of this piece, it’s now been less than five months since the Weinstein investigations sparked a sort of domino effect. “Everything’s changed,” Tamblyn told me in December. “We’re living in a new world.” For her, that new world is defined by what people who are fed up with harmful systems can accomplish. For her, it’s something hopeful.
A lot of men have approached Tamblyn with concerns, specifically about the potential consequences of so many public accusations coming out of the reckoning. It makes her ask them, in turn, what they think the solution should be. “They never have an answer, by the way, because they don’t know,” she said. “And guess what: We don’t know, either. We’re figuring this out as well. But we do know is that it can’t be the way it was before. That it has to change. And I feel it has to change by any means necessary.” ●
Alanna Bennett is an entertainment reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
During a conversation with BuzzFeed News Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith about their upcoming film The Post, actors Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks mulled over the question of what to do with art once an artist’s reputation has been compromised. The question revolved around the deluge of allegations of sexual misconduct that have recently hit public figures in Hollywood, from Harvey Weinstein and Brett Ratner to Dustin Hoffman and Kevin Spacey. “We still revere Shakespeare,” Streep said. “We haven’t thrown it out, and there is no question that [The Merchant of Venice] is anti-Semitic. There is no question that The Taming of the Shrew is misogynist. Everybody has their blank spots, but the genius that understands so much else about the human experiment is worth safeguarding, and shouldn’t be touched.”
“People who are terrible also have terribly clear insights on other subjects, so I don’t think you throw the baby out with the bathwater,” she continued.
Hanks answered next, emphasizing that the question of the art vs. the artist is one that takes time. “If you threw out every film or television show that was made by an asshole, Netflix would go out of business,” the actor said. “The Brady Bunch, I don’t know what else. I think you do just have to…you wait. ‘Cause this is a long game. Picasso was a womanizer. And this is not excusing anybody — you just have to wait and see how it settles over the long haul.”
“This is not a sprint, this is a marathon,” he continued. “And I think work does speak for itself. But character does come into the conversation at some point. But I think that lands over time.”
Throughout her first four seasons on Black-ish, Zoey Johnson has more or less known who she is. Played by reigning teen icon Yara Shahidi, the Black-ish incarnation of Zoey has been the cool girl; the stylish girl; the popular kid; the favorite child. She’s been the sister who knows how to ground her family members when they stray too far into one of their frequent flights of fancy. She’s rocked practically every possible hairstyle. She’s been genius, and fabulously frivolous. She’s taken part in discussion after discussion about the nuances of black life in America. And she’s done it all with confidence, a winning smirk, and an uncommon amount of swagger. But she’s also done it from the sidelines.
ABC’s Black-ish thrives in its own tried-and-true formula. Its characters are designed to represent a range of perspectives, and each offers a different point of view in America’s most relevant cultural conversations.
The show has also always been framed mainly around a middle-aged black man — Dre Johnson, played by Anthony Anderson. And Black-ish has certainly gone to very smart places with Dre in the lead, churning out engaging episodes that examined everything from police brutality to the 2016 election to postpartum depression. But it’s also begged the question: What would this show look like if we decentered Dre — if the default perspective were, say, a young black woman instead of her father?
Grown-ish, premiering Jan. 3 on Freeform, is centered on Zoey’s first year of college. And it’s here to answer that question. With Shahidi in the lead, this new show already glows from the inside out.
This time, it’s Zoey’s identity at the center of everything. And, as she realizes quickly in the show’s Breakfast Club–inspired first episode, it’s an identity that’s much more in flux than on Black-ish. “The spine of this is Yara Shahidi, is Zoey,” Black-ish and Grown-ish creator Kenya Barris told BuzzFeed News in mid-November. “She’s the narrative engine.”
“You really get the chance to create Zoey,” Shahidi told BuzzFeed News of the opportunity a spinoff provides, adding, that “we’re watching the creation of a complex character.” Shahidi, who is 17 herself, had just completed her own college applications in January 2017 when she learned of Barris’s plans to spin her character off. “Kenya would really treat me like a collaborator, especially in the preproduction,” she said. “While Black-ish is through Dre’s lens, Grown-ish is unabashedly through Zoey’s lens.”
“I think that this generation has more on its shoulders than any different generation probably since, like, the Vietnam War,” Barris said.
That lens is one of a young black woman struggling to figure out what kind of person she wants to be. It’s also, by extension of Zoey and her group of friends, one of a younger generation responding to a culture in flux, with an ensemble cast so easily captivating they’d make John Hughes jealous. “I think that this generation has more on its shoulders than any different generation probably since, like, the Vietnam War,” Barris said. “And I think all that is at the core of what this show is.”
The idea of harnessing “the voice of a generation” has been tainted since the 2012 reaction to the first season of Lena Dunham’s HBO show Girls. But that’s never meant that a generation doesn’t crave voices — plural — and Grown-ish aims to spin the Black-ish formula into a series that acts as one for Generation Z. Black-ish takes on the spirit of black affluence in Generation X through the point of view of a goofy, high-strung dad. Grown-ish, on the other hand, is carving out space to debate the burgeoning cultural essence of Generation Z, as anchored in the point of view of a young, soul-searching black girl. “They really are the generation that kind of is tasked with really making America great again,” Barris said, echoing a sentiment he shared in a recent commencement address at Tufts University. “It is kind of a crazy place right now.”
With that in mind, having Shahidi in the lead and collaborating in creating her character certainly helps Barris’s goal. Since Black-ish premiered in 2014, Shahidi has stood out both on the show and in her offscreen life, becoming an activist and a sort of public teen representative on a variety of issues. “That voice that she gives to youth culture and the people who don’t have a voice, I think that probably comes before the show [for her], before school,” Barris said. “I think that’s something that she thinks is really important. And that comes out sometimes in the show.”
A generation is, of course, a big thing — one that could never be summed up in one TV series. But the black American experience is a vast thing, too; that didn’t stop Black-ish from taking it on piece by piece. They did so by acknowledging the sheer diversity of those experiences and offering up an array of perspectives that mirror how people are hashing them out in the larger world.
In the first season of Grown-ish, the show takes on a slew of topics using much the same format. Among the subjects on the table in Season 1 are campus drug use, the intensely subjective definition of the phrase “hook up,” and a debate about safe spaces centered around the status of an all-black dorm. There’s also an episode discussing “black women and their position in society,” according to Barris, inspired by data that shows that black women and Asian men are the demographics most often seen as undesirable on dating apps. That one sparked the biggest debate internally — “the one that almost broke the writers room,” Barris said. “It was really this emotional whirlwind that we had in the room talking about it.”
The cultural status of black women is a conversation that absolutely could have happened on Black-ish. As Chloe Bailey — who plays one half of a track star duo on Grown-ish with younger sister Halle Bailey — told BuzzFeed News, Black-ish is “not afraid to talk about any and everything.” But it’s also a conversation that promises to pack an even bigger wallop on a series actually centered on a black woman. “I want to be part of something that moves culture and really hits the nail on the head,” said Trevor Jackson, who plays young activist and Zoey’s sometime love interest Aaron, on Grown-ish.
Grown-ish already feels strikingly confident in its first few episodes, anchored by an exciting ensemble and a main character who thrives in the spotlight. “They come together to make this amazing alchemy of people that I don’t think we’ve seen in a really, really long time,” Barris said of the ensemble, citing examples like St. Elmo’s Fire, Friends, and St. Elsewhere as a reminder of the goal. There’s also a healthy helping of A Different World.
Zoey may still be figuring out who she is, but Grown-ish already seems steady in what it wants to be. It’s “a little bit looser and gets a little bit wilder” than Black-ish, according to Barris, and that’s evident from the season’s first three episodes. It’s more serialized, more romantic, more character-driven. It’s what Zoey is: fresh, and young, and stylish. And it’s all hers.
Alanna Bennett is an entertainment reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
In the ever-widening world of Harry Potter, there is a dark entity known as the Obscurus. Created when a child suppresses their magic, an Obscurus is often brought about by abuse in that child’s environment. The parasite uses that pain to take over its host’s body, then lashes out to destroy everything in its path. In the first Fantastic Beasts movie, it was the force that pummeled its way through half of Manhattan — forming the film’s climactic moments and sending the entire wizarding government into a damage control panic.
When Johnny Depp’s casting as Gellert Grindelwald in the Fantastic Beasts franchise was announced, it was Nov. 1, 2016, only a couple of weeks before the first Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them film hit theaters in the US and the UK. It was also 11 months before the exposure of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged decades of sexual misconduct — an event that would inspire droves of people to come forward with their own abuse stories, landing a growing list of people (primarily men) fired or in the midst of PR disaster. But back in 2016, Depp’s alleged verbal and physical abuse against ex-wife Amber Heard was public knowledge, and the once-beloved actor had already fallen from grace.
Fans weren’t pleased with the casting from the get-go. “The Harry Potter universe is all about being against the abuse of power and yet you cast a known abuser?” Twitter user @wednesdaydreams tweeted soon after the casting was announced. “What really gets me, is how many victims of abuse have used the Harry Potter franchise as a means to heal,” user @holly_bourneYA tweeted. “How must they feel today? How.”
In the wake of the Weinstein-inspired floodgates, several industries have been stoked to attention via the resurgence of movements like the Tarana Burke–founded #MeToo. Many are just beginning to reckon with the vast, insidious history of abuses within their ranks. And Depp is still in Fantastic Beasts, gearing up for the release of the series’s second installment in November 2018, eerily called The Crimes of Grindelwald. Only, the cultural environment his role exists in has grown even more inhospitable than it already was.
“If Ridley Scott can reshoot an entire movie in two weeks, you can recast Johnny Depp.”
“It’s galling, and it’s heartbreaking, simultaneously,” Harry Potter fan Leah Cornish told BuzzFeed News. “It’s such a slap in the face to people who love the books,” fan Sarah Furniss said. Several longtime fans spoke to BuzzFeed News recently, citing their own experiences with abuse and the ways in which the Harry Potter series historically acted as a balm in their lives. Many also noted Sony’s recent decision to replace Kevin Spacey in All the Money in the World as an example of a contentious lead actor who was replaced even when it was inconvenient. In that case, Christopher Plummer stepped into Spacey’s former role following sexual assault allegations against Spacey. At the time it was an unprecedented move; now it’s publicly, provably possible. “If Ridley Scott can reshoot an entire movie in two weeks, you can recast Johnny Depp,” Harry Potter fan Cate Young told BuzzFeed News. (Spacey was also removed from House of Cards, and Danny Masterson was written out of The Ranch following rape allegations.)
It’s glaringly evident that everyone from Potter fans to those responsible for creating Fantastic Beasts are intensely aware that Depp’s presence is potentially disastrous. And yet he remains in the role. And as of this week, all the major forces behind the film — director David Yates, Warner Bros., and creator J.K. Rowling — have spoken publicly and supported the decision to keep him employed. “It’s put me in a weird place,” Ariel Taranski, a former employee of the Harry Potter fansite MuggleNet.com told BuzzFeed News. “I love literally every other actor in these movies. It’s disheartening.”
Abuse has always been a central theme in the world of Harry Potter. It was the reality of the title character’s daily life with the Dursleys: confined to a cupboard, starved, berated daily for merely existing. That was a big part of what made Harry’s escape into the wizarding world feel impactful — he was finally granted a reprieve from life with his abusers. Verbal and physical abuse was speckled throughout every story, from the childhoods of Sirius Black, Severus Snape, and Tom Riddle, to the misconduct of school and government officials like professors Snape and Umbridge. It is present, too, in Fantastic Beasts and Cursed Child, and will certainly be a theme in The Crimes of Grindelwald.
On Thursday, Dec. 7, Rowling released a statement responding to the Depp controversy. It came nine months after Twitter users started claiming that Rowling had beenblockingthem when they tweeted at her about their displeasure over his role. In Rowling’s statement, she called the “questions and concerns” fans had regarding Depp’s casting “legitimate,” and admitted that producers “naturally considered the possibility of recasting.” She continued, though, that, “based on our understanding of the circumstances, the filmmakers and I are not only comfortable sticking with our casting but genuinely happy to have Johnny playing a major character in the movies.”
“I accept that there will be those who are not satisfied with our choice of actor in the title role,” she wrote in the statement’s final paragraph. “However, conscience isn’t governable by committee. Within the fictional world and outside it, we all have to do what we believe to be the right thing.” Reached for comment, a representative for Rowling told BuzzFeed News that the author “isn’t making any further comment and won’t be doing interviews.”
Warner Bros. also released a statement, writing that they “take seriously the complexity of the issues involved,” but that “based on the circumstances and the information available to us, we, along with the filmmakers, continue to support the decision to proceed with Johnny Depp in the role of Grindelwald in this and future films.”
Warner Bros.’ statement also said that the matter of the abuse allegations had “been jointly addressed by both parties, in a statement in which they said “there was never any intent of physical or emotional harm.” This was in reference to a statement released by Heard and Depp in August 2016. Heard seemed to respond to Warner Bros.’ use of that line on Twitter, writing, “For the record, this was our FULL joint statement. To pick&choose certain lines & quote them out of context, is not right.Women, stay strong.” [sic]
Heard and Depp’s full statement read as follows: “Our relationship was intensely passionate and at times volatile, but always bound by love. Neither party has made false accusations for financial gain. There was never any intent of physical or emotional harm. Amber wishes the best for Johnny in the future. Amber will be donating financial proceeds from the divorce to a charity. There will be no further public statements about this matter.”
The fans BuzzFeed News spoke to were not happy with the responses from Rowling, Yates, Heyman, or Warner Bros. Neither were many fans on Twitter. As user @leonardoflac wrote, Rowling’s “legacy is literally about a boy who has been emotionally and physically abused and the danger in looking the other way bc the truth is inconvenient.” But other fans also came to Rowling’s — and Depp’s — defense, saying that Heard could be lying, or commenting on the intense scrutiny Rowling is under. Still others reminded folks of the People report from June 2017 that claimed Depp’s former managers had witnessed Depp being “extremely volatile” with Heard. That report alleges that he had “gotten physical” and “violently kicked” her. Neither Depp’s nor Heard’s reps responded to request for comment.
After hearing Rowling’s statement, Young told BuzzFeed News about her disappointment, “not just because of the themes in the story in general, but also because of her [Rowling’s] reputation of being so outspoken and progressive,” Young said. “It’s just a very bad look to keep him on, because it’s just another Lena Dunham situation basically, where [the excuse is] ‘Oh, well I know the real reason why it’s fine.’” Young was referencing an incident that occurred after actress Aurora Perrineau accused Girls screenwriter Murray Miller of raping her. In response, Dunham and fellow Girls showrunner Jenni Konner released a statement to THR that said that their “insider knowledge of the situation” and working history with Murray led them to side with his version of events. Dunham later apologized after an intense Twitter backlash, writing that “until we are all believed, none of us will be believed.”
Rowling’s statement echoed that of Yates, whose thoughts on the matter had been published in an interview a week prior. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, he said that “with Johnny, it seems to me there was one person who took a pop at him and claimed something. I can only tell you about the man I see every day: He’s full of decency and kindness, and that’s all I see. Whatever accusation was out there doesn’t tally with the kind of human being I’ve been working with.”
“Our feelings are valid. [What’s happening] feels basically like gaslighting.”
Later, in a joint statement from Yates and longtime Harry Potter producer David Heyman, they wrote that “none of us involved in Fantastic Beasts would ever let our appreciation of talent obscure other, far more important considerations. We recognized the magnitude of the issues raised and understood the strength of feeling expressed. We hoped and strived at all times to be sensitive to both parties. We stand by our decision to have Johnny in the films.” Reached for comment, Warner Bros. directed BuzzFeed News to the previously released statements.
As it is, fans’ relationship with the Harry Potter franchise has been increasingly strained in recent years. As fan Robyn Jordan told BuzzFeed News in 2016, “We have to ask ourselves if they’re taking advantage of the audience they have while not meeting the standards that they set.” And as Furniss told BuzzFeed News this week, “Our feelings are valid. [What’s happening] feels basically like gaslighting.”
Some themes in a fictional series could never contain the full implications of the massive moment forming around the exposure of abusers in Hollywood. But in the case of Fantastic Beasts and the truly staggering fandom that’s congregated around Harry Potter for the past 20 years, it’s a relevant facet of a painful situation. The fandom has been fighting Depp’s casting since the day it was announced, and Rowling has stayed mostly quiet for the vast majority of that time. For some, the silence itself was an ideological betrayal. It was also hypocritical given the nature of the series and Rowling’s public history of progressive rhetoric. Now, the statements from Fantastic Beasts’ powers that be are their own troubling entity, and, to some, serve as yet another symbol of the ways in which women’s grievances will be disbelieved or dismissed in favor of a charming man.
The question of whether these controversies will affect the box office of The Crimes of Grindelwald are more difficult to predict. The movie doesn’t even come out for another 11 months, and Harry Potter is a powerful force. Given the new allegations and Hollywood upheavals happening daily, we don’t even know what the industry creating this movie will look like in the coming months. After Crimes of Grindelwald, the plan is to make three more Fantastic Beasts movies, presumably also involving the archvillainy of Grindelwald. What will anything even look like by the time we get to the last one? What will the industry and the culture at large have reckoned with then, and what will continue to escape scrutiny or consequence? As Furniss said, “The problem with this past year is that I can’t be super optimistic anymore.”
Alanna Bennett is an entertainment reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.