THB #165: Toby and Johnny and Amber... OH MY!
I woke up Wednesday morning thinking about making a very cogent argument about how stock prices are not affected by content successes. Paramount and Netflix and Disney and IMAX were all down today, giving up whatever stock bumps they got from Top Gun Maverick, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Stranger Things. (A Jedi, a guy with a big smile, and a bunch of kids walk into a bar with a really big screen…)
But the day had other plans. Verdicts in the case of Warner Bros and the Heard/Depp trial made themselves apparent over my first cup of coffee.
There is something about this that feels so connected… but not. Depp starred in one of Mike DeLuca’s last New Line movies, Blow… and God knows, blow was much discussed in the trail. Heard’s only 7-figure movie gigs (Aquaman and Aquaman, Jr.) have been at Warner Bros in the DC universe under Toby Emmerich, where trial witness Walter Hamada also seems to be headed out the door as head of DC. Heard’s 3rd most significant film is Drive Angry… produced by DeLuca.
JOHNNY!JOHNNY!JOHNNY! got dumped by Warners in the Fantastic Beasts series, the first major career consequence of Amber Heard’s op-ed (which was heavily lawyered to be lawsuit proof, knowing it would point right at the unnamed Depp). And DeLuca, in his youth, lost control at a party and used his date’s throat for something non-violent in front of a picture window at an agent’s house. (This story rarely comes up anymore… and maybe it’s unfair to keep torturing him 20+ years later for a consensual - perhaps loving - act… but an oldie and goodie, story-wise.)
Depp’s first film was A Nightmare on Elm Street… for New Line. Cry Baby was amongst the many John Waters films at The Home Of Waters. And who can forget The Astronaut’s Wife? I know you’ve tried! And there was the poorly-titled Don Juan de Marco, the first Depp/Brando flick, best remembered for its hit song "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman" (though I kinda like the movie, I must admit).
The story at Warner Bros Discovery is in flux. The hire of DeLuca and Abdy at Warners includes an eye to split them off of the DC product and Animation. DC has been fairly solid lately, though speculation is that the next runs of films will end that positive run. But what has been true of DC at Warners and Animation is that both have struggled mightily for decades now. They just haven’t been able to figure it out. They have both had a number of ramp ups. Animation has repeatedly buried its missteps. DC has had moments, with Nolan and then Snyder, but 3 movies in a row and reboot isn’t what Marvel has been at Disney, and so even when it’s going well, it has felt undernourished.
As I wrote in April, Toby Emmerich was okay at Warners. He did make some of the worst dramas in the history of the company. But the kept the trains running. The movie It and it’s sequel are kinda his calling card. A lot of people like the guy. And there are only so many people who have run full-service studios at this point.
DeLuca and Abdy have been around the block. DeLuca produced a couple of the films that failed for Toby at Warners (Reminiscence and The Kitchen). But he did shepherd 50 Shades, The Social Network, Moneyball, and Captain Phillips. Abdy’s producing credits are limited, as she ended up working as an exec for most of her career. But Garden State, Identity Thief, and a strong history of supporting female directors.
My conclusion about this duo being hired by Zaslav is that he would rather be interesting and modestly successful commercially than boring and modestly successful commercially. They can play to all fields. But by taking DC and Animation off their plates, I expect them to split the slate between IP and ambitious titles.
Now back to the trial…
What will leave the deepest scar is not the trial itself. Not the allegations. Not the Twitter screeds.
It is the absolutism of people, picking a side based on what they prefer to believe, never seriously considering anything else, and HATING anyone who wasn’t 100% on their team.
This is the most dangerous thing about America right now. Some call it cancelling. Some are enraged by the term. Some call it wokeness. Some are enraged by the term. The hypocrisy of the right these days is beyond words.
I have read a series of opinion pieces, published by legit outlets, that claim to be investigating why the trial is a flashing red light about culture… but then turn out to be exactly the problem they are so concerned about, made up minds that start with and only assume one side of the claims.
And you know that I am writing about writers above who decided that Amber Heard was a truthful victim here because most fanatic supporters of Depp couldn’t compose a full article without just all-capping “AMBER IS A BITCH!”
What I find particularly difficult is that people with whom I agree on more than 95% of social issues - including misogyny , abuse, and the 1st Amendment - seem unwilling to allow for any reality in this particular case aside from “he’s an abuser, she is a victim, and not being 100% on board means you are embracing all the terrible male power behaviors of the last millennia and are willfully choosing to not see.”
And who do I not agree with at all? Anyone saying, “But Johnny couldn’t… I know who he is… I feel his spirit.”
What more could Amber Heard have said to make those who see every moment of this as an attack on a victim of serious crimes to convince them that she was, at the very least, making some things up or wildly exaggerating in some areas?
Conversely, what evidence could there have been that would convince the Johnny lovers that he had abused her in a way that they couldn’t push aside?
I think the answer to both is “nothing.”
That is the danger.
I agree on most things with one group. I suspect that I disagree on quite a lot with the other. Doesn’t matter. It’s not about me. It’s not about them.
I am watching a generation of our very best thinkers lose themselves in a relentless defense of absolutism that they refuse to admit is absolutism. They are right, in their minds, and questioning their position in any way is a serious offense.
And then, saying that you have been somehow marginalized because of this absolutism is also something that must not be discussed, because it only proves that you are irrational and can’t accept their undeniable truth… which is not absolutist.
More than 9 out of 10 times, a woman reporting a man for abuse is telling the truth. Only a small percentage even get to reporting… because the system is also abusive. This is the ugly reality for women and many marginalized people, even in the American system that seeks to be better.
Every one of those women who reports (or doesn’t) knows when the man is lying. And most guys instinctively know it too.
And one time in twenty or so, a group of decent, thoughtful women and men can see that a woman is lying. Because it does happen. And occasionally, that group is a jury.
It may be a trick. It may be false info. It may be systemic bias. But it doesn’t have to be.
Sometimes, even when it hurts, deeply, things are so obvious that they don’t need to be nefarious.
Sorry to offend by saying so.