Halfway into “Savage X Fenty Show Vol. 4,” the latest streamable fashion show promoting Rihanna’s lingerie line, the camera lingers on a shadowy figure leaning against a tree. As it nears the figure, who is surrounded by men dancing in sync to Outkast’s “So Fresh, So Clean,” the mysterious person is revealed to be Johnny Depp, sporting a dark robe and other garments from the Savage X Fenty menswear collection.
Depp saunters away from the tree, in the direction of another. At one point on his short journey, he moves in slow motion. His blank gaze remains trained on the camera, aside from the brief moments in which it shifts to the coordinated dancers he passes or up toward the tree he approaches and lightly hugs.
The whole thing takes up about 40 seconds in a special lasting as many minutes, but Depp’s very inclusion in “Vol. 4” set off days of outrage in the lead-up to its Wednesday release on Prime Video. The 59-year-old actor has been a polarising presence these days, the ire toward him stemming from ex-wife Amber Heard’s allegations that he abused her throughout the course of their relationship, which ended in 2016.
In June, Depp won his high-profile defamation lawsuit against Heard over a 2018 op-ed in which she described herself as a representative of domestic abuse; he was awarded $15 million, while she received $2 million after the jury found that Depp’s lawyer Adam Waldman defamed Heard (one of three counts in her countersuit).
Depp returned to business soon after the verdict. He created a TikTok account that garnered 16.5 million followers and announced he would be releasing an album with British guitarist Jeff Beck. He booked film projects, including a biopic of the artist Modigliani that Depp is set to direct and co-produce with Al Pacino. Dior continued to stand by Depp, who has been the celebrity face of its Sauvage cologne since 2015.
Rihanna isn’t the first to support Depp publicly, and “Vol. 4” isn’t the first surprise appearance Depp has made this year — in August, he made a bizarre virtual cameo at the MTV Video Music Awards as the Moonperson, the VMAs mascot that usually appears in trophy form. But given Rihanna’s massive influence as a pop superstar and billionaire business mogul, critics of Depp have argued that she is misusing her platform. On social media, Depp’s fervent fan base interpreted his appearance in “Vol. 4” as Rihanna, a prominent survivor of domestic abuse, showing solidarity with Depp, who has alleged that Heard was abusive toward him.
Rihanna, whose business ventures Savage X Fenty and Fenty Beauty have been commended for serving diverse sets of consumers, has also received praise for the inventiveness of her Savage X Fenty shows, which have previously featured celebrities. Depp appears in “Vol. 4” alongside Hollywood stars such as Winston Duke, Taraji P. Henson and Sheryl Lee Ralph, as well as supermodels including Joan Smalls and Cara Delevingne. Representatives for Savage X Fenty have not responded to The Washington Post’s request for comment on Depp’s appearance in the show.
Earlier this year, news broke that Depp planned to appeal the $2 million verdict from Heard’s countersuit; Virginia Court of Appeals records indicate that his legal team officially filed last week.