Johnny Depp’s Southern Creole Heritage

The definition of Creole, within context of the Americas, refers to a person born in the South with heritage from abroad. However, this can refer to virtually any mix of multiple races, from African to Caribbean to Native American. Creole is largely a social structure, a culture created from the shared experiences of many peoples of color, with a fluid definition that evolves in time. But Creole culture is very real, and many famous people identify with it, including Harry Connick Jr., Selma Hayek, Angelina Jolie, and perhaps most famously, Johnny Depp.

Johnny Depp was born in Kentucky and raised in Florida, with a heritage that includes German, English, Irish, French, African and Cherokee. His racial heritage is particularly strong on his mother’s side, and his great-grandmother Minnie was a full-blooded Cherokee. Though he does not identify with any one ethnicity, Depp speaks openly about his mixed ancestry in interviews, jokingly referring to himself as a “mutt” and a racial “pu-pu platter”. Depp’s life has been similarly cosmopolitan, as he has homes in Los Angeles, southern France and even a private island in the Bahamas. The homes abroad are where Depp lives with his family when he is not filming.

Though Depp’s ethnic and personal background is diverse, it’s nothing compared to the range of characters he’s portrayed on screen. Characters played by Johnny Depp include the disfigured and tragic Edward Scissorhands, infamous B-Movie director and transvestite Ed Wood, mad genius chocolatier Willy Wonka in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, and most famously, the charmingly unhinged Captain Jack Sparrow in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series. These characters, amongst the many others played by Depp, are all united by their uniqueness and outsider status. Depp has not explicitly identified himself as Creole, but the eccentric characters he plays overlap with many themes in Creole culture.

Johnny Depp’s range of characters seems informed colorful traditions and diverse makeup of Creole culture, but he has also experienced the tragic aspects of the culture, the narrative of poverty and otherness. Depp’s family moved over 20 times during his childhood, and his parents eventually divorced. His unhappiness and isolation manifested in self-harm and drug abuse, but Depp also found an outlet for his sadness in music. This eventually led him to acting, and Depp gained a strong following thanks to the way he portrayed colorful outsiders. In addition to his critical and commercial success, he’s become a sex symbol of Hollywood. His mixed racial heritage has hardly deterred his many, many admirers, nor has it prevented him from being the best-paid actor in the business.

Creole culture in America developed with several key narratives, including the traditional folk story, the assimilation of multiple cultures, and the outsider having to pass for white. But if Johnny Depp ever had to pass for an identity with which he was uncomfortable, that no longer seems to be the case. Depp is not only the most successful Creole actor in Hollywood, but also one of the most successful Hollywood actors ever.