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'Look at Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder's careers, and tell me double standards don't exist'

Why aren’t men in Hollywood held to the same standards as women?

LAST FRIDAY, JOHNNY Depp appeared on The Graham Norton Show. The actor was on hand to promote his latest caper, Murder on the Orient Express. The timing of Depp’s appearance was curious, to say the least.

In a month that has seen men in Hollywood come under fierce scrutiny amid allegations of sexual assault and harassment, it was jarring to see a man publicly accused of domestic violence welcomed with open arms onto one of the world’s leading chat shows with ne’er a word said about it.

That said, it wasn’t terribly surprising. Men in Hollywood are frequently afforded second chances and comebacks. Just take a look at Mel Gibson. The once-exiled actor is currently in the middle of mounting a comeback and starring in comedy blockbuster Daddy’s Home 2.

This, despite the fact that Gibson has a history of making anti-Semitic, racist and homophobic remarks. Not to mention the fact that he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of beating his girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva in 2011 and was recorded likening her to a “a f**king bitch in heat” and threatening to burn her house down. Charming.

Women in Hollywood, however, aren’t afforded the same luxury. If a woman behaves badly, says the wrong thing or makes a mistake, they’re sidelined. In the mid-noughties, Katherine Heigl was a bona fide star. She was one of the leads in one of the popular shows on television and landed plum roles in films like Knocked Up, 27 Dresses and The Ugly Truth.

She was forging a career as a romantic comedy star and everything was going swimmingly. Until she gave an interview to Vanity Fair in which she described Knocked Up as “a little sexist” and criticised the portrayal of women in the film, that is.

It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys. It exaggerated the characters, and I had a hard time with it, on some days. I’m playing such a bitch; why is she being such a killjoy? Why is this how you’re portraying women? Ninety-eight percent of the time it was an amazing experience, but it was hard for me to love the movie.

Nowadays, few would disagree with this assessment. After all, Knocked Up hardly offers an enlightened view of heterosexual relationships. Seth Rogen and his cadre of stoner friends are presented as fun-loving guys who are nagged by the women in their lives.

At the time, however, Heigl was painted as an ungrateful woman who would do better to keep her mouth shut and just be thankful she was admitted into the boy’s club in the first place. (Both Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen were critical of Heigl’s comments and have never acknowledged that there may have been a kernel of truth in what she said.)

Heigl admittedly did herself few favours when she later publicly criticised the working conditions on Grey’s Anatomy and withdrew herself from contention for the Emmys citing a lack of good material. She was let go from the show by mutual agreement in 2010 and her career has since nosedived with the actress starring in a series of bombs like Killers, Life As We Know It and The Big Wedding.

The point, however, is that Heigl is far from the first difficult actor. Tom Hardy prides himself on being difficult. Christian Bale once famously roared expletives at a director of photography who dared walk into his eyeline. Jared Leto gave his Suicide Squad co-stars sex toys and dead animals to create an atmosphere of “spontaneity and surprise”.

Have any of these men been blacklisted for being difficult or behaving poorly? Not at all. Because when a man behaves badly, he’s just intense and it can be attributed to their fabled “process”. But when a woman behaves badly, she’s a diva and Hollywood won’t hesitate to escort her out the door.

Another victim of these double standards is Winona Ryder. Ryder was one of the most iconic actresses of the 1980s/1990s, starring in cult favourites like Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Heathers and Mermaids. She garnered an Oscar nomination for The Age of Innocence. She was the epitome of cool.

Until it all came crashing down in 2001. That year, Ryder was famously caught attempting to steal thousands of dollars worth of merchandise from Saks Fifth Avenue. She was also found to be in possession of numerous prescription drugs and was later convicted of grand theft.

She subsequently embarked on a period of self-imposed exile and has struggled to emulate her previous success. In fact, her current role in Netflix’s Stranger Things is easily her most high-profile gig since that fateful arrest.

In recent interviews, Ryder seems at peace with how her career has progressed, but it nonetheless highlights how willingly Hollywood will discard a woman who is perceived to be damaged goods. (Interesting aside: Winona Ryder has claimed that Mel Gibson once called her an “oven-dodger” in reference to her Jewish heritage. Guess who was nominated for an Oscar this year? Not Winona!)

Which brings us to Johnny Depp. Last year, Amber Heard filed for divorce from Johnny Depp and accused him of being abusive. She provided photos, videos and texts as evidence and was still dismissed by Depp’s lawyers as trying to “extend her fifteen minutes of fame”.

This year, Depp’s former business managers confirmed that the actor had indeed gotten physical with Heard and claimed that the actor had worked to conceal the evidence.

The allegations have harmed Depp’s reputation somewhat, but he has yet to become a persona non grata. He can currently be seen in the aforementioned Murder on the Orient Express and has six films either in pre-production or post-production, according to IMDb, including franchise movies like Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them 2 and Sherlock Gnomes. A far cry from Winona Ryder and Katherine Heigl being effectively blacklisted, eh?

It makes you wonder what exactly a man has to do before Hollywood will shun them and why exactly they aren’t held to the same standards as their female peers.

Something to mull over while we watch Murder On The Orient Express and Daddy’s Home 2, I guess.

About the author:

Amy O'Connor

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