The skip-bin fire that is the Amber Heard-Johnny Depp defamation trial will wrap up within days and then the nine-person jury will start deliberations.
Two things have already become clear.
Firstly, it doesn’t matter what the jury finds, Depp will be the winner. In some ways, Depp has already won.
The case as to whether Depp or Heard defamed their ex-spouse during the bitter fallout of from their marriage (which collapsed in 2016) will be decided in a Virginia courtroom.
Outside the courtroom, within millions of television and smartphone screens around the world, the trial has seen Depp’s reputation slowly rehabilitated. It has been lifted on the wings of a favourable Tweets and distilled into countless sympathetic YouTube and TikTok videos.
The jury may find in Depp’s, Heard’s, or neither’s favour, but such is the asymmetric outpouring of support for Depp and disbelief for Heard across social media that the outcome of the trial no longer matters to public opinion.
What began with Depp seeking $50 million for the loss of his reputation is, ironically, restoring it.
Secondly, the conclusion drawn from this open sewer of a trial is that it represents the definitive correction to the excesses of the #MeToo movement.
Whether right or wrong, true or false, millions have voiced their opinion that Amber Heard was the physical abuser in the marriage and Johnny Depp was the victim. We wait for the jury to make up its own mind in the coming weeks.
If the jury come to the same conclusion as social media, no other case will better expose the ‘believe all women’ ethos and the inevitable injustice against men that it fosters.
False allegations have a history as long as the criminal justice system itself.
The #MeToo movement was an over-correction, sparked by decades of Hollywood looking the other way as the Weinsteins of the world cut a swathe through the film industry, leaving a trail of abused young women. Weinstein rightly rots in jail today.
But the Weinstein case spawned a culture of impunity in which men fall prey to the most spurious allegations made by women. The pendulum has swung too far, engulfing Australian film stars including Geoffrey Rush, who won his defamation case in 2020 (for $2.9 million), and John Jarratt, the star of Wolf Creek, who was acquitted of a 40-year-old rape allegation in 2019.
It was for this reason that when Amber Heard allegedly implied her ex-husband was a wife-beater in a December 2018 op-ed in the Washington Post, Johnny Depp became #MeToo’s biggest scalp.
Every marriage has its secret regrets and hidden abuses, but the salacious, gritty, violent, drug and alcohol-fuelled desperation of the Heard-Depp marriage, revealed in detail during the trial, has reached cringe-worthy levels.
We’ve seen pictures of Depp passed out on drugs with an ice-cream cone melting on his clothes. We’ve seen a video of Depp flying into a rage in the couple’s kitchen, destroying dishes before storming out. All pictures and video courtesy of Heard, taken secretly.
We’ve listened to Heard fly into a jealous rage, goading her accomplished actor husband as ‘over the hill’, insulting his masculinity, and openly admitting she hit him, then laughed at his threat to expose her abuse publicly.
‘Suck my d*ck,’ she says repeatedly, on one audio recording.
Depp’s security guards recalled trying to remove Depp from a rented Queensland mansion in 2015 after Heard allegedly smashed his hand with a full vodka bottle, severing a finger-tip, according to Depp. He was rushed to hospital and had the fingertip re-attached, documented in records and pictures showed.
For her part, Heard told the court Depp raped her with a bottle during the same Queensland stay, but admitted she didn’t seek any medical or police assistance, despite claiming to have bled from the alleged assault.
For the many who have followed the four-week trial in detail, glued to the video coverage of witness, the most chilling moment came in week three, during the cross-examination of Ms Heard by one of Mr Depp’s lawyers, Camille Vasquez.
The diminutive Vasquez, impeccable in her courtroom advocacy, had been dubbed the ‘queen of objections’ during Heard’s initial examination by her attorneys.
When it came time for cross-examination, Vasquez stood and fixed Heard with a level stare, then played the damning audio clip in which Heard mocks Depp for threatening to go public with his claims of abuse by Heard:
‘Please tell people … see what the judge and jury think. Tell the world Johnny, “I, Johnny Depp, a man, I’m a victim too, of domestic violence … and see how many people believe, or side with you.”’
Vasquez then got to the centre of Depp’s case: Heard’s alleged role as an abuser and her utter conviction that Depp wouldn’t ever go public.
‘You didn’t think he would tell the world that he was a victim of domestic violence, did you, Ms Heard?’
‘Mr Depp is your victim, isn’t he, Ms Heard?’
‘Once he left you, you continued to abuse him – by calling him an abuser.’
Couched as questions (all denied), they were meant as statements.
Judging by the online response, the majority of observers believe Vasquez and, by extension, Depp.
By the time Vasquez started questioning Heard, the young actress had become a figure of ridicule for her less-than-convincing performance on the stand, which fell somewhere between daytime soap opera and reality TV.
Observers noted Heard was inconsistent, histrionic, and vague and ‘crying with no tears’. Of course, her performance has no bearing on the truth.
Depp has consistently avoided looking at Heard in court, including during her three days on the stand. He sits quietly, wearing dark-tinted reading glasses, and looks at the desk in front of him.
It has been a years-long struggle for Depp to get to this point.
They were married in a registry office in 2015 and separated in 2016. By the second half of 2018, his world had imploded following the publication in The Sun of a story. Depp sued the paper unsuccessfully for defamation.
At the end of 2018, Heard’s op-ed appeared, confirming to the world that yes, she was beaten by Depp and, what’s more, she was being punished by the entertainment industry for being a victim. Although she didn’t name Depp in the allegations, her assertion of being a domestic violence victim, together and following The Sun article earlier in the year, identified Depp as the abuser. Heard didn’t deny it.
From there, the calculus was simple:
Believe all women. Amber Heard is a woman. Believe Amber Heard.
Depp’s career quickly caved in, along with his reputation as a talented, non-violent (if idiosyncratic) A-list actor.
Heard was assisted in writing her op-ed by the long-venerated human rights activist body, the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, the trial revealed.
The ACLU’s lawyers reviewed the piece; the ACLU’s communications staff helped to write it; and the ACLU’s public relations staff made contact with the Washington Post to place the article, starting their email to the newspaper with: ‘As you know, Amber Heard was beaten up by Johnny Depp during their brief marriage.’
The assistance wasn’t for free. Heard had, in 2016, sensationally pledged half of her $7 million divorce settlement to the organisation (Heard pledged the other half to an LA children’s hospital – neither pledges were honoured in full).
The ACLU then made Heard an ‘ambassador’ for raising awareness of violence against women in the entertainment industry and by 2018 and the impending release of Aquaman, Heard’s profile was expected to skyrocket, the court was told.
The publication of the op-ed at that time was considered a win-win for Heard and the ACLU, it was revealed via emails and testimony from the head ACLU lawyer. This interaction between a civil rights group and the Hollywood starlet has drawn deep criticism from legal and media commentators.
The scandal quickly engulfed Depp, his family, and his career. Depp told the court his two teenage children were confronted at school with accusations their father was a domestic abuser.
Disney dropped him from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise despite Depp making it an international hit largely because of his character, Captain Jack Sparrow. Depp was also dropped by Warner Brothers, in 2020, from the third film instalment of another successful franchise, Fantastic Beasts, again due to the Heard allegations.
A forensic accountant appearing for Depp told the court that Depp copped a $25 million hit to his earnings as a direct result of the allegations, not including the $7 million divorce settlement he paid to Heard.
During his lengthy testimony, Depp has presented like a man at the end of his rope, with nothing more to lose. Depp told the court he’d never been accused of hitting a woman in his 30 years in ‘the industry’ until Heard’s allegations.
‘It’s very strange when, one day you are Cinderella, so to speak, and then 0.6 seconds later you are Quasimodo,’ Depp told the court.
How did it get to this?
Years of Hollywood’s suspicion and toleration of abusers has deeply embarrassed tinsel town. Victimhood and virtue signalling are the only things that matter – truth be damned.
From this new world, Depp has dragged himself back to the light.
‘It’s been a long six years [since meeting Heard],’ he told the court.
The trial itself has revealed a different Depp. On the stand he had no director, no publicists, no lighting, and no make-up. It wasn’t a performance so much as a testament, and it was riveting.
In a low, steady tone, head and shoulders hunched forward, furrowed brow, eyes focused, apparently looking directly into his past, Depp told the harrowing story of growing up in Kentucky and being regularly beaten and humiliated by his mother, Betty Sue.
He then moved on to his brief and tumultuous marriage to Heard.
Again, taking that crouched, defensive posture, acknowledging the jury rarely, Depp’s words emerged slowly and deliberately, as if forced out through sheer determination of the will.
Depp described a woman who was violent with her body and humiliating with her words.
‘Go be a real, married man and deal with your shit like a married man. Suck my d*ck,’ Heard tells Depp, in an audio clip played to the court.
Depp responds in his own, more artful yet also cutting way.
‘You’re a panicked f**king clown, screwing everybody else over. The most spoiled f**kin’ brat, you’ve got almost everyone out here fooled – but it don’t last long,’ Depp says.
Depp told the court of a pattern of arguments in which Heard would pursue Depp relentlessly to resolve some perceived dispute, while he would retreat to other rooms, which would enrage Heard even more.
He described being punched, hit, kicked, and of objects being thrown at him, and injuries to his face and body.
A photo was tendered to the court showing Heard and Depp, arm-in-arm, smiling on their honeymoon. Depp’s left cheek is red and swollen, the result of a strike from Heard, Depp said.
His testimony came across, not so much as a great acting performance (Depp has the air in court of a man who enjoys not acting), but rather of a damaged, defensive, and recovering victim of domestic violence. Whether the jury sees it this way is yet to be decided.
The testimony Depp gave went down well, but by the time Heard was finished on the stand, observers in the public gallery were reporting online that the jury were no longer looking at her – a very bad sign.
Depp has been widely praised by online observers for his courage in coming forward as a male victim of domestic violence.
While men account for between one quarter and one-third of domestic violence victims, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, they are practically invisible in our culture and are simply not supported by existing domestic violence services or legal services.
On a strict legal basis, even if the jury believes Depp’s claims that Heard hit him starting from the first days and nights of their marriage, it won’t help Depp win this particular case.
The jury need only believe Heard was, on the balance of probabilities, struck at least once by Depp, then her defence of truth stands regarding the article and Depp could lose.
There are few cases with more publicity. Footage is scrutinised, examined, cross-checked, and packaged up by an army of online observers, including body language experts, many of whom produce short pithy ‘highlights’ clips, within hours.
For Depp, the outcome may prove moot so long as Depp’s online profile, his popularity, and reputation are left noticeably improved.
In believing Johnny Depp, observers stand with several important women from Depp’s past who have publicly stated they don’t think he is a domestic abuser, including his former wife Vanessa Paradis, former partner Winona Ryder, and J.K. Rowling who is the author responsible for the Fantastic Beasts movie franchise which starred Depp in its first two outings until he was dropped by Warner Brothers in November 2020.
While the global online response to the trial is one thing, the jury’s decision shouldn’t be pre-empted – it has an important role to play in weighing the evidence.
More importantly, we should consider the wider impact of the trial, whatever the outcome.
The Heard-Depp saga shows how the #MeToo narrative is a very well-funded and highly credentialed freight train that, once moving, is impossible to stop.
And it can destroy lives unjustly because many men are victims and not all women are to be believed.
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