The San Sebastian International Film Festival in Spain is honoring Johnny Depp’s career with the Donostia Award, the highest honor the festival gives. The award is a lifetime achievement award. The festival has been honoring actors and directors with the award since 1986, sometimes to only one person and sometimes to a few individuals, depending on who they feel is deserving that year. This year, Depp will receive the honor on September 22, 2021, at the Kursaal Auditorium.
While the Donostia Award is for lifetime achievement, and Johnny Depp has had a long and full career, it’s unclear why they chose this year to honor Depp. Last year, the winner was Viggo Mortensen. At that time, the longtime actor was at the festival both to receive the award and to present his directorial debut, Falling, at the 2020 festival. It was a moment where the actor, and new director, was standing out and people were reflecting on his career.
For Johnny Depp, this is considered by most to be a dark moment in his long career. The San Sebastian International Film Festival made no mention of the current controversy surrounding the actor or the possible backlash that could come from honoring someone that many in the movie industry are now trying to distance themselves from. Recently, following events around his separation from ex-wife Amber Heard, including lawsuits and a lot of publicity, Johnny Depp left the Fantastic Beasts franchise. Grindelwald, his former character, will now be played by Mads Mikkelsen. Announcements for new projects involving the actor have been few and far between. He has kept his ad campaign with Dior, but that isn’t the same sort of project he’s used to or the kind of acting work they give these awards for.
The timing of this honor is bound to be called into question. Are they honoring Johnny Depp now because this feels like the end of his career? Did they gamble that the controversy would draw more public attention to their festival, and they are following the old guidance that all publicity is good publicity? While Depp’s acting work has been varied and interesting, and the kind of career that earns him awards like this one, at this time, it feels more complex to single Depp out. As for what the festival has to say, they simply noted that he is “one of contemporary cinema’s most talented and versatile actors.”
The list of winners of the award newly being given to Johnny Depp is long. It includes a lot of well-known names, many of them not attached to controversy or scandal. Previous winners of the Donostia award for lifetime achievement include Susan Sarandon, Al Pacino, Anthony Hopkins, Michael Douglas, Anjelica Huston, Michael Caine, Robert De Niro, Warren Beatty, Julie Andrews, Jessica Lange, Willem Dafoe, Meryl Streep, Ian McKellen, Julia Roberts, Glenn Close, John Travolta, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugh Jackson, Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Sigourney Weaver, and Donald Sutherland. However, there are still names on the list that have been controversial choices, like Woody Allen. He was honored with the lifetime achievement award in 2004. By that time, allegations that he sexually abused Dylan Farrow as a child were already made public.