The Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial is not just the story of another celebrity spat. This is the story of a mega Hollywood star, accused of grave domestic abuse by his ex wife, of a trial by media, the toxicity of celebrity culture and rank misogyny against the accuser — often abusive and vicious.
As I write this column, the jury which was hearing a high profile defamation battle between the two in Virginia, United States, has gone into deliberations.
Johnny Depp sued Amber Heard for defamation after she wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post in 2018, referring to herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.” Though her piece did not name Depp, he says the reference was obvious and that because of the piece, he lost out on multi million dollar movie deals.
More than a year later, Amber Heard filed a counter lawsuit worth $100 million against Depp alleging that he defamed her by suggesting her allegations of abuse were fake. The case went to trial last month.
Make no mistake, neither Depp, nor Heard come out looking very good after this 6 week long trial. There are disturbing allegations of physical, verbal and emotional abuse by both.
On one recording, Heard admits to hitting Depp as well. And text messages from Depp to his friends were shown as evidence where he said he wanted to harm to ex wife. In one of those, he says he wanted to ‘kill Heard and rape her burnt corpse’.
Heard told the courtroom of Depp’s alleged drunken, violent abuse towards her over the years where he allegedly slapped her, grabbed her hair, pushed her against a wall and threw objects at her.
Her lawyers backed this up with photos of Heard with bruises on her face, Depp’s violent texts and an audio recording where Heard is apparently begging him to put down a knife.
His lawyers have called the charges “wild and implausible” and Depp had maintained Heard was the aggressor.
Harassment and humiliation
Taking the stand last week, Heard was brought to tears as she described the harassment and humiliation she has faced on social media and in front of cameras. She said she faced death threats everyday. “It’s easy to forget but I am a human being,” she said.
With the trial being live-streamed every day, it was obvious this would become a media and social media circus — much like the OJ Simpson case of the 1990s.
Over the last few weeks, vicious tik tok videos have been made, taking bits of Heard’s testimony and then mocking and abusing her for it. A few had to be taken down because of the backlash at how offensive they were.
Much of the support that Depp gets is from his devoted and vast fan base all over the world. They actively took to social media to discredit Heard, smear her reputation and question the bruises on her face.
The website ‘Boom live’ did a detailed report on the misogyny and pointed out how the hashtags against Heard on social media were real. An expert says there were over a million hashtags against Amber Heard, between 2020-2021.
#JusticeForJohnnyDepp topped the list. Derogatory hashtags like #AmberHeardIsAnAbuser and #WeJustDon’tLikeYou were trending at the same time.
What many people forget is that Johnny Depp had earlier lost a case in the UK where he sued ‘The Sun’ newspaper for printing a headline that called him a “wife beater”. The UK judge said 12 of 14 alleged incidents of Depp’s abuse of Heard were found to be true.
Amber Heard was also awarded a domestic violence restraining order in 2016.
But that doesn’t seem to matter to the army of Depp bhakts. Whether this social media campaign was organic or deliberately done is not clear.
For victims of domestic violence, this trial has been a triggering experience. For many, it is not easy to come out and speak about the abuse they have suffered. The toxic backlash to Amber Heard could make many even more weary to come forward.
The way this trial has played out in public consciousness says a lot about how we as a society look at issues of domestic abuse. We should be deeply ashamed.