Last updated on June 7, 2022
The Johnny Depp and Amber Heard defamation case has turned into a cultural flashpoint. Even if you didn’t watch a minute of the live stream, the unavoidable stench has crept its way into memes, hashtags, and short clips bombarding your feeds; many of them clearly in support of Depp.
Back in 2018, Amber Heard published an op-ed with the Washington Post in support of the Violence Against Women Act. In the piece, she referred to herself as a “public figure of domestic abuse” whose own career had crashed after she had exposed the influential actor as her abuser. Depp accused Heard of damaging his career, detailing how Disney had dropped him from Pirates 6, while Heard’s lawyers pointed out that Depp had been dropped two months prior to the piece’s release. Depp’s lawyers countered, noting Heard’s op-ed as a “death knell” and a “catastrophic thing for Mr. Depp and the Hollywood community.”
The way the trial was received outside the courtroom fervently echoes a line from Heard’s op-ed four years prior, “I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.” In a way Heard’s op-ed came true after the trial; she felt the wrath of Depp’s loyal fans. He had a suite of international cheerleaders; among them were men’s rights activists and members of the Republican Party. Whether or not Heard was truthful, the case worryingly might set a precedent for the intensified barriers victims will face in the future. The trial has displayed a regressive trend of hostility and animosity towards those who step forward and speak out against abusers in places of power.
But how will this all play out in Hollywood? The industry still grapples with complex issues brought out by the #MeToo movement. An executive at a major studio sees the jury’s verdict as a “Pyrrhic victory for Depp at best”, noting that “it will take time to see if Hollywood wants to work with either of them.” Dirty laundry has been aired on both sides, and so large productions with the intention of bringing in a wide audience will most likely have trouble placing them for the foreseeable future.
While Depp probably won’t be spotted on Harry Potter or The Pirates of the Caribbean franchises, his star power and the general will keep him in business, even if that means only on-demand productions for now. On the other hand, Amber Heard has left less trusted and more hated. Although never quite as large of a star, her career is seemingly over.
Hollywood has repeatedly forged a tabloid trend in the demonization of women like Britney Spears, Pamela Anderson, Monika Lewinsky, and Anna Nicole Smith. Amber Heard’s case and treatment on all social media platforms since the trial strongly echoes the way these women were undermined, mocked, and then locked out of Hollywood. The timing of the trial came out of an era where the public doesn’t want a clear “victim” and “victimizer,” causing Heard and Depp’s case to release a lot of pent-up anger towards women and resentment of the MeToo movement.
Regardless, while Hollywood waits for the grimly toxic trial to dissipate, it’s important to label neither of them as abusers. “I think they abused each other” explained an industry veteran, “I think they were toxic. I don’t think he’s a serial abuser. He didn’t abuse Kate Moss. He didn’t abuse Vanessa Paradis. But there are some combinations of people that are like chemicals that are completely benign when they’re on their own, but you put them together, and they blow up your kitchen.”
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