Nobody is saved from cancel culture. The warning comes from Johnny Depp, the latest proclaimed victim of the culture of cancellation, an attitude “now out of control” of blame and deprivation of support and satisfaction against public figures, companies or cultural products deemed to carry an offensive or politically incorrect message.
“This race for judgment is so out of control that no one is safe, I assure you,” the Hollywood star said at the San Sebastian Film Festival press conference in Spain before receiving the Donostia Awards. For journalists, it is forbidden to ask questions about the actor’s stormy divorce from his colleague Amber Heard, which had generated mutual accusations of violence between the spouses. Not to mention the defamation lawsuit Depp lost last year against The Sun, a British tabloid who had called him a “wifey”.
“It doesn’t matter if a judgment, by itself, has taken on a poetic license. When there’s an injustice, whether it’s against yourself or someone you love, or someone you believe in, get up, don’t sit down. Because we need you ”, said the star with clear reference to his personal vicissitudes. Then, declaring himself honored by the award received, Depp added to the dose with an indictment of the system: “Just a sentence and there is no more space. It didn’t just happen to me, but to many. Unfortunately, at some point people start to think it’s normal, or that it’s over for them. But is not so”. “Arm yourself with truth is all you really need,” he added.
Not just Depp. The actor is, in chronological order, the last of the celebrities who have expressed dissent for a trend that risks transforming society into “inflexible, fearful, vindictive and humorless”, had pointed out some time ago the Australian singer-songwriter Nick Cave in a letter published by Spectator. The artist had written that “the cancel culture it is the destruction of the creative soul ”and that“ the politically correct it has become the most unhappy religion in the world ”.
Before Cave making headlines, in the summer of 2020, it was an open letter from 150 writers, personalities and intellectuals published in July 2020 on Harper’s Magazine. Among the signatories, names of the caliber of Margaret Atwood, Ian Baruma, Noam Chomsky, Salman Rushdie and JK Rowling: united in denouncing cultural intolerance and defending freedom of thought and speech.
A document that came in the weeks following the anti-racist protests for the assassination of African American George W. Floyd, which had unleashed an emotional wave of erasing the uncomfortable past and iconoclasm (remember, for example, the attempts to remove or demolish statues or monuments considered symbols of slavery or colonial regimes, not only in the US but also in Great Britain and the rest of the world, ed). In the letter, the group of intellectuals celebrated “the broader demands for greater equality and inclusion in society” arising from the protests for racial justice, underlining, however, that together with these “a new series of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and tolerance of differences in favor of ideological conformity ”.
A drift, the latter, that intellectuals had rejected by rejecting dogma, censorship and coercion: “Illiberal forces are gaining strength in the world, and they have a powerful ally in Donald Trump who poses a real threat to democracy. The democratic inclusion we want can only be achieved if we make our voices heard against the intolerant climate that has taken hold in all parts ”, it read.
“The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is becoming increasingly limited,” continued the open letter. “While we expect this from the radical right, censorship is also spreading widely in our culture,” he added, pointing the finger at “calls for quick and severe punishment in response to perceived transgressions of language and thought.” There are many examples of writers, editors and journalists removed from institutions and working realities for their opinions: “Whatever the arguments on each particular case, the result has been to constantly narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of retaliation”.
“We reject any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without the other. As writers we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, taking risks and even making mistakes. We must preserve the possibility of a disagreement in good faith ”, urged the appeal of the 150, which did not remain isolated.
The list of personalities who have exposed themselves criticizing the drift of politically correct and cancel culture It is long. We remember Ricky Gervais, British comedian and actor irreverent presenter of five Golden Globe ceremonies, who said: “If you turn off the TV, it’s not censorship. If you’re trying to get others to turn off the TV because you don’t like something they’re watching, then it’s a different story. You shouldn’t go to trial for saying a joke that someone didn’t like ”. “If you disagree with people’s right to say something you disagree with, then you disagree with freedom of speech,” Gervais comments.
Returning from where we started with Depp, or from the world of cinema, it is impossible not to remember other famous cases. One above all: Kevin Spacey, Oscar winner the subject of cancel culture ever since, in 2017, she came under indictment for harassment and sexual assault. Spacey, who is now returning to the set, defended himself from the accusations right away, but his professional agenda was immediately cleared: Netflix decided to close the series with the sixth season House of Cards, while Ridley Scott replaced him with Christopher Plummer for the role of Paul Getty in the film All the money in the world.
The same happened to director Woody Allen, suspected of molesting his adopted daughter but cleared of the charges for lack of evidence. Vicissitudes that led to the banning of his biography by a US publishing house and the American boycott of his films.
This article originally appeared on The HuffPost and has been updated.