The Johnny Depp controversy hijacks Cannes Film Festival 2023

Ayaan Paul
Ayaan PaulMay 17, 2023 | 13:03

The Johnny Depp controversy hijacks Cannes Film Festival 2023

The Cannes Film Festival, known for its glitz and glamour, is facing a storm of controversy as a social media campaign with the hashtag #CannesYouNot accuses the festival of celebrating abusers for over seven decades. 

  • The campaign, initiated by supporters of Amber Heard, aims to shed light on the issue of alleged abusers being protected and promoted within the film industry. The opening of Johnny Depp's new film, Jeanne du Barry, at Cannes has fuelled the debate even further.

As tensions rise, the festival finds itself in the midst of a contentious and polarising controversy.

The cast and crew of Jeanne Du Barry attend the screening & opening ceremony red carpet at the 76th annual Cannes film festival at Palais des Festivals, France. Photo: Getty Images

A history of allegations

Eve Barlow, a journalist and activist and a close friend of Amber Heard, spearheaded the #CannesYouNot campaign by sharing the hashtag and expressing her discontent with Cannes's support of alleged abusers.

  • Barlow drew attention to several prominent figures, including Depp, Roman Polanski, Harvey Weinstein, Woody Allen, Gerard Depardieu, and Luc Besson, who have been associated with the festival despite facing accusations of abuse.
  • Supporters of the campaign argue that by opening the festival with Depp's film, Cannes is sending a message that it supports individuals accused of misconduct.

The hypocrisy of Cannes

Proponents of the #CannesYouNot movement highlight the apparent hypocrisy of the Cannes Film Festival. They argue that while the festival claims to take allegations of abuse seriously and has implemented anti-discrimination and anti-abuse policies, it contradicts these claims by featuring Depp in a prominent role. They believe that this move undermines the progress made by the #MeToo movement and perpetuates a culture of protecting powerful individuals accused of abuse within the film industry.


The bans and online activism

The city of Cannes has banned protests during the festival, prohibiting physical demonstrations against the festival's decisions. However, the organisers of the #CannesYouNot campaign assert that they cannot be prevented from expressing their dissent online.

  • While the campaign's initial focus was on Depp, its broader objective is to shed light on the larger issue of alleged abusers being shielded and insulated by the film industry. The online protest continues to gain momentum through various social media platforms.

Cannes's defence

Thierry Fremaux, the chief of the Cannes Film Festival, has pushed back against the criticism, vehemently denying the accusation that the festival supports abusers. Speaking at the festival's first press conference, Fremaux challenged journalists, asking why they would attend the festival if they believed it was a haven for rapists.

While acknowledging the controversies surrounding Depp and other accused individuals, Fremaux defended the festival's decision to showcase Depp's film, asserting that the freedom of thought and expression within a legal framework should prevail.


Depp's comeback and mixed reactions

The premiere of Jeanne du Barry marked a significant moment for Depp, whose star power has diminished amid the allegations, having received an enthusiastic seven-minute standing ovation at the film's premiere, with audience members expressing their support for his performance as King Louis XV.

However, reactions remain divided, with many questioning the festival's decision to give Depp such prominence considering the ongoing controversy surrounding him.

The future of Cannes and the film industry

The controversy surrounding Depp's inclusion in the Cannes Film Festival raises broader questions about the film industry's response to allegations of abuse. Critics argue that by giving accused individuals a platform, the industry perpetuates a culture that prioritises power and fame over accountability.

As the festival progresses, the debate will likely intensify, forcing the film industry and festivals like Cannes to confront these difficult issues and reevaluate their selection processes and stance on alleged abusers.

Moving forward, it remains to be seen how the Cannes Film Festival and other major film events will address the growing calls for accountability and transparency. The controversy surrounding Depp's presence at Cannes underscores the need for a thorough examination of the industry's treatment of abuse allegations and the responsibility of festivals to promote artists who adhere to ethical standards.

Photo: AFP

Ultimately, the #CannesYouNot campaign serves as a reminder that social media has become a powerful tool for amplifying voices and holding institutions accountable. While physical protests may be banned, online activism continues to provide a platform for individuals to express their concerns and advocate for change.

As the Cannes Film Festival unfolds, it is unfortunately unlikely that the Depp controversy will cast a shadow over the event.

It is crucial for all stakeholders, including festivals, filmmakers, and audiences, to engage in meaningful dialogue and take steps towards fostering an environment that prioritises safety, inclusivity, and respect for all.

To know more about what role the Cannes Film Festival plays in the annual awards race, check out How To Win An Oscar

Last updated: May 17, 2023 | 13:03
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