TRUE OPINION: The Johnny Depp / Amber Heard defamation trial has continued to grip millions of viewers internationally, and with the Virginia jury largely deciding in Depp’s favour, Maisy Rae explores why it’s hard to tune out the trial’s heavy costs.
With the pens now lowered, cases rested, courtroom silent, the sounds of shrill laughter cannot be unheard. Johnny Depp’s defamation trial against Amber Heard has captivated audiences with videos of heart-wrenching testimony now reaching billions of views. We have heard excruciating details about their marriage, we have been catapulted into their lavish lifestyle, we know their best friends, their enemies, their darkest desires, their sordid secrets, and yet we want more.
Beyond the doors of that Virginia courthouse lies a cesspit of ridicule, hypocrisy and shame.
Despite the jury ruling in favour of Johnny, who claimed Amber defamed him in her 2018 op-ed, I can’t be completely sure about who is innocent here. But I know it’s not us, the gaping audience.
We sat with bated breath, desperate to see a blunder, a glimpse of anger, a peek into a celeb scandal so significant it’d make Rupert Murdoch himself blush. In a perverse way, it’s sexy. Never could the pages of a glossy tabloid rag paint the picture in such colour we are seeing today. Never could a news bulletin explore the intricacies of an abusive relationship with the level of detail on show in this trial. Now, we are at the very precipice: we were in Johnny and Amber’s holiday home on the Gold Coast, their Los Angeles penthouse, we were in their marital bed (and out of it at times), we bore witness to it all.
And yet we laud it up, time after time. And I was no different.
For someone who has never particularly been a fan of Johnny Depp’s movies, or Amber Heard’s for that matter, I abruptly found myself headfirst in the jaws of madness. It started off on TikTok: the #JusticeForJohnnyDepp clips appeared suddenly, filling my page like a broken show reel, with live footage, analysis and parody videos plaguing the screen each day of the nearly-7-week trial.
Twitter was not dissimilar. Analysis upon analysis piled up on if Amber’s testimony was truthful, if her legal team was purposefully stumbling its way through trial, if Johnny was f*cking his attorney, his forensic psychologist, hell, even Amber’s own sister.
It was intoxicating and I needed to know more.
To give context to readers who have not yet seen this type of commentary: it is sickening. For weeks, Amber has been attacked on her appearance, her hairstyle, her crying face, voice, choice of drink – you name it, it’s happened. The #JusticeForJohnnyDepp page which shares this type of commentary has now amassed over 18.4 BILLION views. Just one video mocking Amber’s emotional testimony has reached nearly 35 million views.
It’s not just the armchair critics who have been complicit in this. Corporate America has jumped on the bandwagon too. Language learning app, Duolingo, recently came under fire after insensitively commenting on a TikTok video showing Amber’s testimony about being the target of an online hate campaign.
Throughout the trial, Amber’s legal team maintained she had used a colour correcting kit to help mask the alleged bruises on her face, whilst holding up Milani Cosmetics’ ‘All in One Correcting Kit’. However, in a TikTok video, Milani Cosmetics denied that their product could have been used since it wasn’t in production until after Amber and Johnny’s marriage ended. “You asked us … let the record show that our Correcting Kit launched in 2017!” the beauty brand wrote.
No matter what the jury decided, it’s fair to say the audience had already come to its verdict. Johnny has repaired his reputation, whilst Amber has completely tarnished hers, her career now in tatters. I’d be surprised if we ever saw her in a Hollywood movie again.
This case is dealing with extremely serious topics of abuse, addiction and violence, and yet we are treating it with the flimsiest of care. We flick through the pages of testimony, eager to discover a sordid detail we didn’t know yesterday. It’s addictive. And it’s toxic.
As I fell deeper into its trap, with the discourse piling up around me, I began questioning my own experiences in relationships. Was I just overreacting? Am I just the ‘crazy ex’ who can’t get over it? Am I exaggerating? Would I be believed? For me, it’s not what it is happening inside the courtroom, but outside that is troubling.
Opinion is welcomed, hell, here I am writing another opinion piece on the whole sorry saga, but I despise those seeking to get their five minutes of fame out of this. I welcome the analysis from victim-survivors and experts in this field. I think this has been a significant opportunity to show to people, both young and old, that men can be victims of domestic violence too. And that abuse is abuse, it doesn’t have to be physical.
But are we as a society emotionally intelligent enough to sift through the entangled webs of a relationship like Amber and Johnny’s? I think not.
It’s also entirely ironic, and yet sadly not surprising, that Amber may have not ‘won’ the case, but she successfully proved her 2018 op-ed: “I spoke up against sexual violence – and faced our culture’s wrath”.
For just one moment think about if Amber is innocent here … what have we done? We have broadcasted this for our own profit. Why are we so eager to glorify this? Since when did it become trendy to mock domestic violence victims?
Regardless of your views on Johnny or Amber, or of this case, the misogynistic witch hunt that has evolved over the course of the trial has been … well, unnerving. Victims now know that unless they have a bulletproof case that they could be taken to court by their abuser, that they might not be believed.
I’ve seen other commentary about this case, arguing we should not call it a circus. But I disagree. It is a circus, and we are its ringmaster. We are responsible for whatever comes next.