Like most people who use social media and occasionally read the news I recently found myself bombarded with videos, screenshots, memes, think-pieces, tabloid write ups and news articles about the ongoing defamation lawsuit launched by Johnny Depp against his ex-wife Amber Heard. The story overall was not new to me. I remember hearing about Heard’s allegations in 2016 and being shocked and disappointed in an actor whose work I had enjoyed since childhood. Some of the films he starred in were instrumental in shaping my taste in film; Corpse Bride (2005), Edward Scissorhands (1990), and even the now oft mocked Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) were all regular viewing staples of my childhood and adolescence in the 2000s and early 2010s.
At some point soon after Heard’s initial allegations surfaced, the tides shifted against her. I moved from being appalled at the thought of Depp being abusive, to passively accepting that they were just another toxic couple that argued a lot and were better off apart. After hearing something so many times, repeated by friends and people I trusted, I had accepted a narrative that I now understand to be untrue and harmful. To be quite frank, the idea that Heard was the abuser never sat right with me but due to peer pressure and the sheer amount of people rallying against Heard I acquiesced to the idea that they were “mutually abusive.” I was wrong.
Now it’s clear to me that Amber Heard is a survivor and a victim of domestic abuse perpetrated by Depp. In the years since Heard’s initial allegations surfaced, I’ve learned a lot about domestic violence and the way that trauma shapes and distorts a person’s memories and behaviours. I was a fresh 19 when I first learned that Depp’s soon-to-be-ex-wife had received a restraining order against him. I’m now 24, a grad school graduate, and someone who has seen a close relative leave a long term abusive marriage. My inexperience with domestic abuse and my general lack of worldliness, combined with my fond memories of Depp’s movie roles, had me willing to accept a narrative that somehow abuse can be mutual. Since that time, I’ve learned that abuse, no matter its form, is unified by a desire for power and control over the victim. I’ve learned that mutual abuse is a myth used by abusers to gaslight and discredit their victims; abuse can’t be mutual, since abuse is an exploitation of power imbalances. Two people can’t be mutually more powerful than the other. When comparing Depp and Heard, it seems clear that the man who was far wealthier, far more famous, far older and far more influential in their shared industry of film was likely going to have the upper hand. I’ve also learned that trauma, especially in incidents of sexual abuse, can impact memory and fragment one’s recollection of information.
I suspect many people are falling into the same trap that I did now that the Depp-Heard trial is an inescapable media fixture. Not only is it practically inescapable but until recently much of the coverage put onto my timelines, my for you page, and my dashboards was aggressively against Amber Heard. Go to YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram or even sites like Medium and you’re bound to find countless videos, articles, memes, and livestreams of the trial with most being not just pro-Depp but blatantly and virulently anti-Heard. It seems it’s not enough for people to support Depp in many of these videos, articles, and memes, but instead they feel they must buoy that support by mocking and vilifying Amber Heard. Hashtags like #JusticeForJohnnyDepp, #AmberTurd, #AmberHeardIsAPsychopath and #AmberHeardIsAnAbuser have begun to trend on Twitter regularly since the trial began. Most sickeningly, people have taken to using Heard’s tearful testimony about her (alleged) rape at the hands of Depp to mock her further. People lip sync to, make parodies of, and laugh at Heard’s emotional recollection of being raped with a liquor bottle while Depp was on a rampage during a trip to Australia in 2015. With the way people guffaw at her accusations, you’d think it was an SNL sketch — oh wait, it was, since they mocked Heard too. It may be hyperbolic, but it makes me wonder if empathy and compassion are dead in the water. How could anyone listen to Heard sob, break down, and say she doesn’t want to discuss some of the most painful and violating details of her trauma publicly and then laugh at that? I believe Amber Heard, but even those that don’t should be able to see just how serious her claims are and just how abhorrent it is to make a joke out of them.
On one hand people say she’s an actress and therefore her testimony might seem believable but should be ignored anyways while simultaneously claiming that she’s a terrible actress and she’s clearly lying — despite the fact that Heard’s acting coach testified that the actress had difficult crying for scenes and struggled to make herself cry when it wasn’t genuine. If she doesn’t have photographic evidence of specific incidents then they didn’t happen. If she collects evidence like photos of her injuries confirmed to fit her timeline via metadata, then she must have faked her injuries to concoct a years-long “hoax” to take down Depp. She is somehow an expert manipulator who was able to con a man old enough to be her father who had been acting longer than she had even existed and who was surrounded by a team of security guards and medical professionals for years, but also so bad at lying and manipulating that it’s apparently been obvious from the start that she was a gold-digging bisexual jezebel who couldn’t be trusted.
There are people constantly comparing Heard to Amy Dunne, the conniving and bitter wife in Gillian Flynn’s novel-turned-David Fincher movie Gone Girl, who stages an elaborate hoax claiming domestic abuse to try and frame her husband for her own murder. It seems as though we’ve forgotten that Gone Girl was a work of fiction, and the twist that Amy was alive and responsible for concocting such a convincing story is so surprising because abuse against women by their partners is so astoundingly common. It’s telling that people have to look towards fiction to find an example of such a story to begin with, but that irony has been lost in the crossfire.
Even though Heard dropped her request for spousal support during their divorce proceedings and agreed to donate her settlement to charity, she’s still somehow a gold digger who only wanted Depp’s fortune. Recently I’ve even seen someone claiming that Heard is killing children by not immediately donating all $7 million of her settlement money from her divorce to sick children. This is despite the fact that her pledge was split between the ACLU and a children’s hospital charity for $3.5 million each, and the ACLU pledge in particular was to be delivered over a period of 10 years. Heard understandably claims that Depp’s litigation against her has prevented her from being able to donate the money, since she has had to spend approximately $6 million in legal fees. Since they can’t make the baby killing accusations stick, some Twitter users have been claiming that Heard is some kind of child abuser for holding a baby in a way Depp’s rabid fans don’t approve of, painting a picture of Heard as someone who hates children and babies on top of being some sort of pathological liar. The levels of self-contradictory conspiratorial thinking required to tear down Heard are rapidly approaching Q-anon levels of absurdity complete with unfounded accusations of Heard being somehow responsible for killing kids. Next thing you know we’ll be hearing how she bathes in baby blood to keep her youthful glow Elizabeth Bathory style. Maybe they’ll dive right into repackaged blood libel and accuse her of drinking and eating the blood and flesh of dead children; at this point, any tactic to claim that Heard is an irredeemable monster seems to be on the table for the most belligerent anti-Heard champions. Despite the leaps in logic made to support Depp, none of the same scrutiny is ever applied to his behaviour. Any inconsistencies or contradictions in his account or testimonies is excused or ignored, and there have been plenty. Heard’s claims are dismissed outright, while Depp’s are taken as sacrosanct by his followers — ones he refers to as “remoras”, effectively calling his most loyal fans bottom feeders.
Every criticism launched at Heard is equally if not more applicable to Depp. People critique her for smiling, but praise Depp for joking and laughing in court. If she looks at Depp, she’s trying to intimidate him. If she doesn’t look at him, it’s because she’s guilty. When Depp avoids looking at Heard, it’s because he was abused. Never mind that Depp tried to approach Heard in the courtroom despite this not being allowed and a court officer even had to intervene to stop him; but this isn’t seen by his supporters (or perhaps more accurately Heard’s detractors) as an intimidation tactic even though Heard clearly flinched when she realized Depp was trying to ambush her as she left the witness stand. Heard’s relationships with James Franco and Elon Musk, both with allegations (and admissions in Franco’s case) of inappropriate sexual conduct, are used as proof that Heard is abusive while Depp’s close long term friendship with alleged rapist and domestic abuser Marilyn Manson and his defence of alleged child rapist Roman Polanski is ignored. When Heard was verbally cruel to Depp this was proof she was abusive, but when Depp texted fellow actor Paul Bettany that he wanted to drown Heard and “fuck her burnt corpse”, or when he was caught on video kicking and slamming cabinets in their kitchen (consistent with actress Ellen Barkin’s and Heard’s claims about Depp’s tendency towards property damage as part of his outbursts) these incidents are minimized as “venting.” The Depp-o-sphere claims it was a Monty Python reference, though I don’t remember the witch burning scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) including references to fucking burnt corpses.
Criticisms of Heard’s supporters and witnesses are also just as applicable if not more so to Depp’s witnesses and supporters. When Tasya Van Ree says she wasn’t abused by Amber and an argument between them was misconstrued by police (who Van Ree believes were motived by homophobia and misogyny when they learned Van Ree and Heard were a couple and not just friends) she is lying to protect her abuser as victims often do. When Winona Ryder, who dated Depp when she was 17 and he was 26, claimed Depp was never abusive to her but subsequently had a lawyer block her testimony in his favour. Although Ryder did not name him directly, she did claim that her first boyfriend (who she claims she dated at 18) used to “smash everything” when he was angry, and this timeline fits the period when Ryder and Depp were together. According to Winona Ryder, Johnny was her “first everything”, which makes it logical to conclude that he was the first boyfriend she had, the same one that would smash things which is consistent with Heard’s accounts of Depp’s rages. Even though this timeline can be easily worked out, when Ryder initially made a statement in support of Depp this was not taken as evidence that she was defending an abuser, unlike Tasya Van Ree. When Ellen Barkin claimed that Depp threw a bottle in her direction during an argument and that he was jealous and controlling, this was brushed off. When Depp’s former fianceé Jennifer Grey (known for her role as Baby in the 1987 hit film Dirty Dancing) claimed he was prone to jealousy, paranoia, and violent outbursts this too was brushed aside. Both Grey and Barkin’s claims align with Heard’s, but Depp’s supporters seem to believe that Grey and Barkin are both lying for some inexplicable reason. Depp’s assistant Stephen Deuters seemed to confirm at least one instance of violence against Amber Heard by Depp in a text message to Heard from 2014.
Any shred of evidence that can be dredged up from Heard’s past whether it’s the incident with Van Ree or videos of her awkwardly holding a baby is used against her while Depp’s multiple arrests and ongoing lawsuit over his assault of a crew member on the set of City of Lies (2018) are all dismissed by pro-Depp crusaders. Even though three of Depp’s former partners have publicly discussed the actor’s tendencies towards jealousy and violent rages, Depp supporters would have you believe that nobody has ever had a bad word to say about the man and that nobody but Heard has accused him of abusive behaviour. Never mind his arrests for violent behaviour as early as 1989 that includes Depp acting violently when intoxicated, those apparently don’t count for some reason. Depp himself said in a 1995 interview when discussing his 1994 arrest for destroying a hotel room during an argument with ex-girlfriend Kate Moss that he had to “evict” his anger. This was no minor eviction, either. His hotel rampage caused over $9,000 in damages and this was in 1994; adjusted for inflation, this is equivalent to over $15,000 in 2022. Again, this should be seen as confirmation that Heard’s claims about Depp’s habitual property damage is at least consistent with his past behaviour but the most avid Depp devotees will disregard it anyways.
When Depp brings out witnesses that are on his payroll or are related to him this isn’t seen as potentially biased but when Heard brings out former friends or her sister who witnessed her abuse they are apparently lying to protect her. Depp’s team can bring forward a psychologist who isn’t American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) certified — but who did go to Depp’s house for dinner and drinks with the actor and his lawyers — to diagnose Heard with borderline personality disorder and histrionic personality disorder (both controversial within the field of psychology) after 12 hours of assessment and this is taken as proof positive that Heard is an unstable maniac. Meanwhile when Heard’s defence team called Dr. Dawn Hughes, an ABPP certified psychologist and an expert in domestic abuse spent approximately 29 hours evaluating Heard to offer a different diagnosis of PTSD related to assaults at the hands of Depp, she was smeared as a liar and had her WebMD page bombarded with fake negative reviews by the anti-Heard crowd.
In 2019, Depp sued the UK based tabloid The Sun over an article calling him a “wife beater.” When the case went to trial in 2020, he lost. The judge in that case determined that 12 out of the 14 specific allegations of abuse brought forward by Heard as a witness for The Sun held up to legal scrutiny and the claim that Depp was a “wife beater” was therefore not libellous. Depp tried to appeal the decision twice, and was denied an appeal both times. This is all despite the fact that in the UK libel laws are far stricter than in the US where the first amendment protections for freedom of speech allow more wiggle room for defendants in these kinds of cases. American courts favour freedom of speech, but UK courts value protecting the reputations of individuals. This has m ade the UK a haven for “libel tourism”
No matter what Amber Heard does or doesn’t do, it’s taken as proof that she’s a man hating harpy who was out to destroy Depp from the minute they met. It doesn’t matter because for many people evidence is only accepted insofar as it aligns with their predetermined biases towards Depp and against Heard. We “know” Johnny Depp better than we “know” Amber Heard. Depp is the quirky leading man in Tim Burton’s gothic fantasies, he’s the off-kilter breath of fresh air in the Hollywood system that brought us Jack Sparrow by taking an initially supporting role and injecting it with charm enough to sustain a five film franchise. Heard is a new face, someone who had typically seen smaller roles and projects before being cast in DC’s Aquaman (2018). Her role as Mera in the DC universe is likely the only major role anyone knows Heard from at all. I highly doubt that her small parts in movies like Pineapple Express (2008) or Machete Kills (2013) were so memorable that it launched her into household name recognition. For decades people have loved Depp. They’ve known Depp as a public figure as long as Amber Heard has been alive: his first notable role was in Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984, and Heard was born in 1986. He had the head start. Trust me, I get the appeal. I get why people want to like and defend Depp. I grew up with his movies too. I admired his work, and if you had asked me in my early adolescence who was on my list of celebrity crushes he probably would’ve made the top 5. Depp has been an idol for the chronically weird since the late 1980s, and as something of a weird little freak growing up I was drawn to his kooky energy and eccentric creative partnership with Tim Burton. I was also a big fan of Marilyn Manson’s music before allegations against him came out. The prospect of a Depp-Manson friendship would’ve delighted my 13 year old self, a perfect marriage of my adolescent alternative icons. At that age, I would’ve given damn near anything to sit in a room and hang out with Depp and Manson if I could have. I didn’t want to believe that Depp, or Manson for that matter, could be dangerous and abusive but I had to accept the facts as they were presented to me. The fondness people feel for Depp isn’t in and of itself a problem. The issue is that these nostalgic emotions are outweighing any and all evidence against Depp in the court of public opinion.
The common thread in all of this is the belief that women lie about abuse. This isn’t true. It isn’t backed up by statistical data. With regards to rape claims specifically, a man is far more likely to be raped than he is to be falsely accused of rape. Even the statistics are misleading; of the amount of rape and sexual assault claims considered to be fake, many are simply retracted complaints. A complaint being retracted isn’t the same as a complaint being falsified. People retract complaints of abuse for many reasons that have nothing to do with dishonesty. Many victims are financially or otherwise dependant on their abusers, some face backlash in their families or communities for speaking out, and others still find the process of coming forward and dealing with the legal system re-traumatizing and retract their statements to avoid the process altogether. This also doesn’t take into account that victims of abuse and assault often have difficulty remembering certain details or orders of events due to how trauma affects memory recall. It would be more suspicious if Heard’s testimony was 100% consistent down to the last detail, as opposed to generally consistent with the overall timeline of events and some missing or confusing bits sprinkled throughout. The latter is more consistent with how survivors of abuse and trauma often tend to recall events, and the former would be more indicative of scripted allegations.
I suspect that for many it’s easier and less challenging to think that someone might lie about abuse for revenge or for personal gain than it is to think that people we know, people we love, and people we look up to could present themselves one way to us and to the world, and another way entirely behind closed doors. One person lying is an indictment of them, but a person who was lauded with fame and money and adoration being revealed as an abuser is an indictment of our society and of us. The overarching misogyny of our culture makes this even easier when the accuser is a woman and the accused is a man. After all it was Eve who first took a bite of the forbidden fruit and brought down Adam, Pandora who opened the box and unleashed chaos unto mankind, and Medusa who turned men into stone.
Even journalists who ought to be able to wade through the evidence and take the heat of having an unpopular but evidence-based opinion are falling into a “both sides” pitfall that contributes to the idea that Depp and Heard were “mutually abusive” or that Heard is somehow untrustworthy despite her consistent allegations of abuse backed up by witnesses, texts, and photos. There is a reticence to call this case what it is, even though there is a decision in the UK that says Depp is an abuser, piles of evidence, and experts in the field who agree that Depp is no victim. Perhaps for some journalists the threat of a lawsuit is enough to scare them away. After all, Depp has been notoriously litigious since he fired and sued his previous management team and took on Adam Waldman as legal counsel around 2016. For what it’s worth, Depp settled his lawsuit with his former managers out of court and his allegations that they mismanaged his funds have never been definitively proven. For the average person, it’s even easier to see something repeated enough times and to internalize it as truth especially when speaking up for Heard is often met with an onslaught of negative replies ranging from petty insults to death threats.
Amid all the evidence, opinions, British judicial verdicts, and media mud-slinging Depp and his team have (in my humble opinion) taken advantage of the biases of the public both generally and specifically in regards to Depp as a popular actor. Many people don’t have a well versed understanding of how domestic violence or abuse function. Even survivors of abuse are not necessarily experts on the subject when it comes to the broader patterns, psychology and sociology of abuse and domestic violence. Being in a car crash doesn’t make you a physicist or an automotive engineer any more than being in an abusive relationship makes you a sociologist or psychologist. Anecdotal, individual experiences are not the same as statistical and sociological patterns. This isn’t a dig at abuse survivors, far from it; it’s an acknowledgment that survivors of abuse are people, and their emotions and experiences are being exploited by Depp and his legal team to smear Amber Heard. For many who have experienced abuse sifting through all of the evidence is understandably triggering. Though it may seem contradictory, there are plenty of abuse survivors and victims who have sided with Depp against Heard despite the logic that tells us they should be sympathetic to her. Heard may remind some people of their own abusers, but this is not proof that she is an abuser nor that she is specifically Depp’s abuser. The vitriol thrown at Heard may also be causing some survivors to want to distance themselves from Heard to avoid being compared to her, an understandable move towards self preservation in a hostile social climate. There are also many survivors who don’t empathize with Heard since she didn’t act the way they did, or they think the abuse she alleges wasn’t as serious as their own. Abuse survivors are connected by a shared constellation of related experiences, not by their opinions. The pain and trauma of these survivors is real, and they deserve empathy regardless of differences in opinion over this case. The problem is that Team Depp is exploiting the opinions of some survivors of domestic violence to smear Heard while ignoring other survivors who see themselves represented in Heard and believe her accusations are truthful, thus pitting domestic violence survivors against each other in an attempt to take down another (alleged) survivor of domestic abuse.
With the way both laypeople and journalists have been covering this case, you might assume it’s a criminal trial. It isn’t. It’s a defamation trial about an op-ed Heard wrote in December 2018 for the Washington Post about her experiences as a public figure who made allegations of domestic abuse. In the op-ed, Heard never names Depp and primarily focuses on the backlash she experienced after coming forward with her allegations, and ways that the law and American society can better support victims of abuse. This lawsuit is, effectively, being launched over one sentence: “Then two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.” That’s it. That’s what this whole kerfuffle has been about. These are the words that launched a thousand ships. Words that not once claim explcitily that Heard is even a victim of domestic abuse, but rather a figure representing domestic abuse victims. Although Depp supporters will claim everyone initially believed Heard, that is far from the truth. Mere months after her accusations of abuse by Depp surfaced, the campaign to discredit and disbelieve her had begun. There was never a time when Amber Heard was universally praised and Depp universally loathed. Depp’s claim in this particular lawsuit is that Heard’s op-ed was defamatory and damaging to his career. This is despite the fact that he had seen diminishing box office returns for years before Heard’s op-ed. It became publicly known in 2017 that Depp used an earpiece to have lines fed to him since he either would not or could not memorize his lines. His former management team claimed that he had a “clear and epic” level of entitlement that fueled his overspending, diva-like behaviour, and tendency to lie to the public and use his lawyers to shield him from the consequences of his actions. In June 2018, Rolling Stone published an article that detailed Depp’s substance abuse issues, reckless spending and ensuing financial difficulties, and personal havoc that was bound to make any studio wary of the troubled star. His former agent of 30 years, Tracey Jacobs, has testified under oath that it was Depp’s unprofessional behaviour on set including showing up hours late to shoots that caused his reputation among studios to decline. Heard detractors will say she’s scorned from being fired by Depp in 2016, but to perjure yourself and risk a career built up over decades seems like a big risk to take just to get revenge on a former client. Additionally, it seems more likely that Depp’s own lawsuits that brought his personal troubles into the spotlight caused more damage to his career than Heard’s op-ed.
The two major projects most often cited as proof of Depp’s lost work were his roles as Grindelwald in the Fantastic Beasts franchise and his position as Jack Sparrow in an upcoming sixth Pirates of the Caribbean film. Rumours about Depp’s departure from the franchise were public as early as October 2018, months before Heard’s op-ed was published, that indicate Disney was already considering moving in a new Depp-less direction. An employee of the Disney company testified to this in court that Heard’s op-ed was not discussed in any communications she saw regarding Depp’s potential role in Pirates 6. Depp himself stated that even if he was offered a role in Pirates 6, he would turn it down. How someone can lose work they were never promised and never intended to take anyways seems confusing at best and contradictory at worst. As for Grindelwald, it seems more likely that Depp’s loss in his lawsuit against The Sun in the UK was the driving factor behind Warner Bros’ decision to recast him with Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen. Heard’s allegations surfaced in 2016, and Depp starred as Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald in 2018. The Crimes of Grindelwald filmed in 2017, a year after Heard had already publicly alleged that he was abusive. If Heard’s allegations were so damning, why not recast Depp in 2017 before production began? When Depp lost his case in the UK, it meant that the Fantastic Beasts franchise (a property inexplicably tied to British media through it’s British author J.K. Rowling) could easily come under fire from any paper in the UK who wanted to lambast the studio for re-casting “wife beater” Depp in the franchise’s third instalment. It seems obvious that the risk of this was too high and this lost lawsuit was the final nail in Depp’s coffin when it came to his role as the villainous wizard Grindelwald. At the end of the day, movie studios want to make money and opening themselves up to tabloid scrutiny about casting a legally recognized “wife beater” was likely to damage the company’s reputation and the franchise’s brand in the UK.
To me it seems clear that Depp’s team are using out of context clips of Heard to make her seem guilty of abuse while he and his legal team, at one point spearheaded by Putin adjacent lawyer Adam Waldman (the same Waldman who leaked the infamous clip of a phone call between Depp and Heard to the press, which resulted in him being kicked from participating in the current defamation trial), engage in an industrial scale DARVO (deny, attack, reverse victim-offender) campaign against Heard with bots and hashtags meant to damage her reputation and credibility. It’s not uncommon for abusers to utilize DARVO tactics to discredit victims who react to abuse with behaviour we might find unpleasant. Victims who fight back are often painted by their abusers as the true aggressor even when this is blatantly false. Due to people’s tendencies to want to see all violence as equally bad, DARVO-ing one’s victim is often an effective way to make them seem just as responsible for the abuse as the abuser. This obfuscates the fact that abuse functions on power imbalances, and that defensive and reactive violence is not equivalent to instigative violence and abuse. This also ignores that being in the throes of an abusive relationship can bring out the worst in anyone. The heightened levels of stress and the trauma that people endure in abusive partnerships can bring people to their breaking point, and draw out a side of them victim/survivor that can seem mean, nasty, and unlikeable to an outsider looking in. Heard’s admission that she sometimes used force and verbal insults in response to Depp’s violence make her more credible, not less. She has never denied that she, at times, acted violently. Abusers typically do not admit to the abuse they’ve perpetrated, which is why DARVO is so common. Heard’s willingness to be forthcoming about something that could so easily be used to discredit her shows a level of integrity that Depp has not shown so far. Yet again, Heard’s behaviour is consistent with what can be expected of abuse survivors but is still seen as confirmation that she’s the abuser.
It seems that Depp has moved his litigation to Virginia, instead of suing Heard in California where both parties live and work, to avoid California’s anti-SLAPP laws, which are significantly stronger than those in Virginia. These laws which target “strategic litigation against public participation” (SLAPP) are an attempt to dissuade frivolous lawsuits launched with the intent to intimidate people into silence, and to punish people for using their first amendment rights to freedom of speech. With stronger freedom of speech protections in the US than in the UK where his last trial was, it seems unlikely to me that Depp can win this case but his move to Virginia appears to be a way to strengthen his potential for a win in this lawsuit. Using Virginia’s tort laws that state that if a harm occurs in the state of Virginia a suit can be launched whether or not either party lives or works in the state appears to be the method of attack; Virginia is where the Washington Post’s offices are headquartered, and the claim is that through the Post harm was done to Depp’s image and career. Depp’s side is the one who wanted the trial live-streamed, not Heard’s, and it seems clear to me that this was done in order to sway the court of public opinion. As the case nears its end with closing arguments set to start soon, the prospect of a Depp victory seems increasingly improbable. It is likely that Depp and his team knew from the start that their chances of winning this case are slim and instead have opted to create a media circus to override the impact of past and potential future court rulings on public opinion by planting the idea that Heard is an unstable menace in the minds of the public day after day after day.
Based on this, it seems to be that Johnny Depp is using the courts to try and silence and humiliate the woman he abused as part of a pattern of control and aggression towards Heard. There are text messages where Depp outright says he wants to humiliate Heard on a public, global scale. He’s using the courts to platform his DARVO campaign against Amber Heard and parade it around in front of the general public. The scary part is that it’s working. A combination of distorted facts and outright fabrications, a lack of understanding about abuse dynamics and trends, and people’s fondness for Depp as a celebrity have coalesced into a toxic sludge of victim blaming, misogyny, biphobia, and harassment. The turn into this kind of rhetoric is unsurprising when you scratch beneath the surface of who is particularly invested in defending Depp and destroying Heard. Far right content creators and those in the largely sexist & antifeminist men’s rights movement and “manosphere” have latched onto the case like fleas on rats. The Daily Wire, a right wing publication founded by failed screenwriter and political pundit Ben Shapiro, has spent around $40,000 to push anti-Heard content about the trial on Facebook and Instagram and gaining about 4 million impressions for their efforts. The astroturfed campaign of bots and right wing media to smear a woman who has come forward with allegations of physical, emotional, financial, and sexual abuse hiding behind the guise of advocating for male victims should be obvious in a post-Trump, post-#MeToo era but it apparently is not. The political angle on this case is obvious when put into the context of the threat of Roe v. Wade’s repeal in the US; it’s a sign of reactionary right wing sentiments on the rise. Those who harbour hatred for feminists, who bristled at the thought that the #MeToo movement could have the potential to take down powerful abusive men, have found a pet project for dismantling decades worth of advocacy for victims of abuse but specifically women who are victims of such abuse. Ever since #MeToo became a public issue there have been people chomping at the bit to find a lying woman to undermine the idea that we should believe women when they come forward about abuse. For those people, Amber Heard is that woman.
Some claim that their defence of Depp is rooted in passion for male survivors of domestic abuse and violence but the silence of Depp’s supporters when it comes to advocating for other male victims or smearing other abusers who targeted men and boys is astounding. Former child actor Corey Feldman has spoken openly about the sexual abuse he suffered and the rampant abuse of children (including boys) in Hollywood for years. Brendan Fraser made allegations that Philip Berk, former president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, sexually assaulted him but I’ve yet to see a campaign against Berk or in support of Fraser at the same scale as the one meant to lift up Depp while disparaging Heard. Kevin Spacey was accused by multiple men of having sexually abused or assaulted them as minors but a mere four years later quietly booked his first film role since the allegations, all while Heard faces a petition with millions of signatures to remove her from her role as Mera in the sequel to Aquaman. While #JusticeForJohnnyDepp and #AmberTurd trend on Twitter, there are no #JusticeForCoreyFeldman, #PhilipJerk or #KevinRapey hashtags going viral. The same people who most aggressively support Depp seem to have been uninterested before this case in male victims, and will likely go back to not caring about them when the dust from this case settles. It’s part of a common pattern where male victims of abuse are used as cudgels to derail conversations about how women are often subjected to domestic violence and abuse. It’s transparent that this is not about male victims, otherwise Depp supporters would be rallying behind people like Feldman and Fraser. Instead, they’ve set their sights on Evan Rachel Wood, one of the more prominent women to come forward with abuse allegations against Depp’s friend Marilyn Manson. The only male victim that the Depp defenders seem to care about is Johnny Depp. Although men can and are also victims and survivors of domestic abuse and violence, available statistics still show that it’s much more common for men to perpetrate violence against women in most known cases of domestic abuse. While it’s also true that men may be more reluctant to come forward about abuse due to gender stereotypes, when evaluating cases of domestic abuse it’s important to use the data we do have instead of trying to assume what might be represented by data we don’t have. And to be clear, I don’t disbelieve Depp because he’s a man. Something being more common doesn’t mean its opposite is always impossible. Anyone regardless of gender or sexual/romantic orientation can become a victim of abuse. I don’t believe Depp’s allegations that he was abused because he has been incredibly inconsistent and I believe that the evidence against him is convincing and credible. I believe men can absolutely experience abuse and be survivors of domestic violence, I just don’t think this specific man is a victim.
To loop this back around to the beginning of the article and finally start concluding this mammoth of a think-piece I want to make it clear that I understand how easy it is to fall for the common narrative to some degree, whether that’s seeing Depp as victim and Heard as abuser or both as “mutually abusive.” This article is over 7,500 words long and still doesn’t even come close to going through every piece of evidence in this case. Trying to sort through it all is daunting when every day more and more information and misinformation are blasted across various news outlets and social media sites. It can be difficult to let go of an artist whose work we love and it can be harder to accept that someone who seems kind, who seems charming, could be a monster lurking in the shadows. For many, it’s an indictment of our own perceptions and judgment. It’s frightening and embarrassing to be confronted with the reality that we are not always all that good at judging the character of those we like or even idolize. It can feel contradictory to accept that someone who we care about or who is kind to us is a threat to others. But it’s time that we all take responsibility for the narratives we accept and propagate, and the damage that these can do to victims and survivors of domestic abuse. Already Depp’s friend and alleged abuser Marilyn Manson is apparently ready to launch a lawsuit against his former partner and accuser Evan Rachel Wood, and the precedent that these cases could set for abusers using lawsuits to silence their victims is a terrifying prospect. If either of these lawsuits are successful, it could lead to more abusive people with the means to drag their victims to court taking up libel suits if the people they harmed dare to publicly discuss their own trauma. There is no “both sides” to be had here. Victims who respond to their abusers with violence or insults are not “just as bad” as the people who initiated abuse against them. There is no such thing as mutual abuse. People like Depp and his attorneys would like you to believe that there is in order to shield his abusive behaviours from the public eye. Depp clearly has no interest in taking accountability for his behaviour or getting serious help for his addictions, and is instead shifting blame for his own downward spiral onto the woman he (allegedly) beat and raped with a liquor bottle in order to rehabilitate his public image and revitalize his long stagnant career.
Don’t let Johnny Depp exploit you in the process of further traumatizing and abusing Amber Heard. Don’t let him turn you into a weapon against her. Don’t let him take advantage of your goodwill or desire to be fair and balanced. Don’t let him hijack the cause of male victims of abuse and use them as a shield in order to hide his own abusive behaviour. It’s easy to be complacent with the dominant story, particularly when standing up for someone who seems to universally hated. It’s hard to fight for the truth when it’s unpopular to the point that doing so results in harassment and verbal abuse. It’s time we do it anyways. It’s time to believe Amber Heard, and our collective support for her is long overdue. It’s time to stand up for her and in the process to stand up for victims and survivors who aren’t seen as likeable or charming or perfect enough. I know that even I, someone with no real following or import, have had at least a few people tell me that my tweets and my discussions about this case have changed their minds and gotten them to see this story from a different angle. Your voice does matter, and even if you only reach one person it’s worth using that voice to stand up for Amber Heard.
Every time we repeat falsehoods about Heard, or misconceptions about abuse victims (“why didn’t they leave?”, “if they didn’t have evidence they’re lying but if they do they’re scheming”, “real victims don’t do [insert any number of criticisms here]”, “if I was a victim I wouldn’t act like that”, “they’re just as bad as each other”, and the list goes on and on and on and on) we give more strength to stereotypes about abuse victims that make it more difficult for them to come forward, leave their abusers, and get the help and empathy they need. We make it harder for victims to be believed when we hyper-scrutinize everything they do, everything they don’t do, and how they express their emotions about their experiences. Whenever we focus on how Heard was potentially toxic, or how much we don’t like her, we are tacitly endorsing the idea that victims who fight back and who come across as unlikeable somehow got what they deserved or that their abusers were justified in harming them. We equivocate the abuser with the abused, the attacker with the attacked, the perpetrator with the victim. It isn’t helping male victims and survivors of abuse either — perpetuating victim blaming ideas that say that those who come forward about abuse are liars, manipulators, and not to be trusted if we decide we happen to dislike them and like the person they’re accusing hurts all victims and survivors of domestic abuse and violence, not just the ones we think are liars who deserve it. Amber Heard most likely won’t see your TikToks, your memes, your YouTube videos, your tweets, or your hashtags but victims of abuse of all genders who see themselves and their messiness, their imperfections, and their trauma reflected in her story will. How can we as a society claim to care about abuse survivors while simultaneously salting the earth for further victims who will now have to think twice about coming forward lest they be relentlessly mocked and sued for speaking up?
This isn’t the first time nor will it be the last time that a famous person we adore is revealed to be abusive. History repeats itself because we allow it to. I think it’s fair to presume that there will be some kind of public referendum on this case in a decade or so, where we’ll all look back in shock and horror at how misogynistic our culture used to be. People who dogpiled Amber Heard will pretend they always believed her and we’ll all decry how terribly she was treated. Like the fervour around the O.J. Simpson trial, or the public shaming of Monica Lewinsky, or the jokes made at the expense of abuse survivor Lorena Gallo (aka Bobbit), we’ll all wonder how the truth could’ve been so obvious yet we all missed it. Thank god we aren’t like that anymore, right? We’ll all pretend to care about Amber Heard and doing right by victims and survivors of abuse — at least for a little while until the next person who accuses our favourite celebrity comes along and is metaphorically dragged into the town square to be flogged for daring to challenge our perceptions of our heroes.
About Author: N.K. Silva is an un-professional writer and lapsed academic with a master’s degree in history, and an undergraduate degree in history & legal studies.