After years of being involved in a toxic relationship with each other, Johnny Depp and Amber Heard have come forth with their own, different versions of the truth. The court proceedings for the defamation case finally came to a halt after several turmoil-laden weeks. Irrespective of the judicial verdict, the public reaction to the case was, once again, disappointing. Dark memes, clips taken out of context, and personal attacks are still commonplace on different social media platforms. Intoxicated with fresh gossip every week, the public has sensationalized the shared trauma of the two celebrities.
To break a vow to oneself is not a pleasant experience. Years ago, a promise was made that participating in the glamorous squabbles of celebrities is something that’s not worthy of my middle-class attention. The differences in lifestyle would also make it difficult to understand their perspectives; even more difficult was the concept to spend an ounce of empathy on people who were quarantined in million-dollar mansions and tried to downplay their situations as being similar to ours. So, like a wise person, I remained relatively detached.
That came to an abrupt end a few weeks ago, when Johnny Depp filed a defamation lawsuit against his ex-wife Amber Heard. The trial can be dated as far back as 2018 when Depp initially sued the director of The Sun, a British tabloid after it published an article that defamed him and accused him of assaulting Amber Heard when they were together. The article also labeled Depp as a “wife-beater“, something that he repeatedly denies to this day.
A libel trial was heard in the United Kingdom to settle the dispute. Only a single judge presided over the courtroom courtesies and eventually ruled in the favor of the magazine. In the same year, Depp had also filed a case against Amber Heard for defaming him through an Op-Ed that was published in the Washington Post. This particular trial went on despite the UK verdict, as two different entities were sued in each case. The case dragged on for years, as shards of evidences were presented in front of an entire jury this time. The strenuous proceedings came to an end last week when the jury finally ruled their verdict. It was determined that Heard had acted with pure malice. Depp was awarded $10 million as compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages for the lawsuit. The jury also determined that Depp had defamed Heard in one instance, and therefore awarded her $2 million as compensation.
The verdict is out and the global population is mostly satisfied as most of them were rooting for Johnny Depp to win the case. I rejoiced as well, for I thought I could finally scroll through my Instagram Reels without seeing a clip of Camille Vasquez’s (Depp’s lawyer) well-timed objections or the unfunny, dark memes on Amber Heard. In their biased spite for the perpetrator, the internet abolished all kinds of boundaries and treated a trial centered on domestic violence as a circus. As more and more, even seemingly conscious people joined the bandwagon, the extreme trolls and misogynists let go of their masks and produced some of the filthiest, most obscene takes on women on the Internet.
It’s 2022, and I don’t expect a lot from the internet, but this case was special. As far as personal opinions are concerned, Amber Heard might not be the perfect representative of domestic violence survivors as she claims to be, but I would not delude myself as far as to paint Johnny Depp as a saint. Mind you, the Pirates of the Caribbean saga defined my childhood, and I couldn’t help but admire his acting prowess. But some of the pieces of evidence against him are shaky, to say the least. The comments he’s made, albeit out of pure frustration, are inhuman and deserve some kind of outrage. Far from it, they are being presented as funny clips, a fact that cannot be justified irrespective of how terrible the person might be towards whom the words are directed. And let’s not forget that Depp is still ruled as an abuser in the United Kingdom.
Another interesting fact about this lawsuit was the work of the actors’ PR teams. Heard’s side tried their best, but they had nothing over Johnny Depp’s entourage. They played their cards right, presented the right clips, appealed to the interests of the masses, and won the trial of the public. Weeks before the verdict was announced, Depp was already the people’s champion. Irrespective of what argument was presented, the narrative worked in his favor. The jury, as experienced as they are, definitely didn’t base their judgment around the popular opinion, and analyzed all the shreds of evidence objectively. However, the disgrace here has always been the internet and how it made a mockery of what was seemingly a sensitive issue.
Taking this particular trial as a reference point, we can also address a larger cause for concern. It’s easy for women to be depicted as the pantomime villain. Men, on the other hand, don’t face the same amount of scrutiny for committing crimes of greater degrees. The likes of Tupac, Kevin Spacey, Chris Brown, and many other male celebrities have been accused of domestic abuse, rape, and so on. But they haven’t faced a similar, more globally-charged scrutiny. It wasn’t just the men harping on Johnny Depp’s victory, however. Many women were supporting him with equal fervor. Is it because Depp is just too likable, or is it a classic case of internalized misogyny?
The answers might be murky but one fact remains clear – there is something inconsistent about how the public reacted to Amber Heard and how they have reacted to men accused of similar charges in the past.
Anzal Khan is a student pursuing B. Com Hons. from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Zaina Shahid Khan