by Sunetra Senior

Content warning: abuse, domestic violence, sexism

It is difficult not to be polarised on any given topic in the explosively divisive climate we are living through. However, emerging from the sensationalism is an irrefutable objective truth in the high-profile trial, where megastar Johnny Depp is suing his ex-wife, up-and-coming actress Amber Heard, for $50 million over editorial defamation: a clear example of inherent misogyny of the media. Heard penned her self-professed subjective piece in The Washington Post, supportively discussing a ‘Transformative Moment for Women’ during the height of the #MeToo campaign. The article, which was read out during the trial as part of Heard’s opening statement, was intelligently and boldly written, focussing on the actress’ harrowing experience of speaking out as female victim of domestic violence and the progressive change within the industry that she wishes to see. Further to this, there was no mention of Johnny Depp specifically or any of the personal accounts, currently being spewed out in public, due to his bringing her to court.

It is worth remembering that Depp lost his prior lawsuit against The Sun for referring to him as ‘abusive’, and in which the British judge found him guilty on 12 counts of the alleged domestic violence. To use the defendant’s own words in court then, he has ironically made democratic activism solely “about him.” 

Indeed, the actor’s allegations of domestic abuse only surfaced in 2019, during his libel case against The Sun and sometime after his split from Heard, something which he fumes has cost him a lot of work. Since then, among other critical details, he has changed a significant story around a severed finger to blame Heard entirely for the incident. The actress had stated it was the result of one of Depp’s alcohol and drug-induced rages where he accidentally injured himself while filming on location in Australia for the film franchise Pirates of the Caribbean. Depp had got so inebriated he cut off the tip of his own finger, dipped it in paint and scrawled disturbing messages across mirrors and miscellaneous property, later using the wounded stump to continue writing in blood. This situation he has never denied, and yet, the mainstream media vehemently has backed and still backs Depp. 

This is not to say that men cannot be victims of domestic violence, that the actor is irredeemable or Heard herself is a straight-forward heroine. What I am saying is that the issue at hand is being corruptively hijacked in favour of a patriarchal agenda that still alarmingly exists today: the fevered protection of powerful men at the annihilative cost of individual women. Indeed, disparaging graffiti seen this week, depicting Heard as Pinocchio, shows the degree to which misogyny contemporarily courses through society’s veins and how dangerous it is to evoke it. It is one thing for Depp to “tell his narrative rather than have it be told by Heard in the Washington Post” but quite another to use his cosmically impactful influence to brand women who’ve suffered domestic violence, in all its pernicious forms, potential liars. It undermines years of hard-earned respect for the gravity of male-on-female violence and casts an ominous shadow over a better broadminded future. Indeed, Johnny Depp’s legal team, led by attorney Adam Waldman, previously released an abominably cavalier statement to the press: “Quite simply this was an ambush, a hoax. Amber and her friends spilled a little wine and roughed the place up, got their stories straight and placed a second call to 911.” This, as well as other malicious fabrication is the fundamental basis of Heard’s countersuit for $100 million. Depp himself asserts that Heard faked a broken nose, surreptitiously staining a tissue with nail polish to resemble blood. However, anyone closely following the trial would have seen the past few weeks show each one of Heard’s friends amid the alleged violence testify to the mutually traumatic event of the night that Depp brutally threw a phone at Amber’s face, after which she filed for a restraining order and divorce. In poignant testimony, Heard’s former best friend Raquel ‘Rocky’ Pennington stated that she came running in, hearing of the commotion, to find a physically incensed Depp, towering over and viciously berating her friend, Heard, who cowered on the sofa. I put myself between them and my hands up to his chest. I said ‘please, stop – stop (…) I then threw my body over hers, shielding her – it’s just what you do.” 

It is one thing for Depp to “tell his narrative rather than have it be told by Heard in the Washington Post” but quite another to use his cosmically impactful influence to brand women who’ve suffered domestic violence, in all its pernicious forms, potential liars.

Heard’s make-up artist, Melanie Iglesias, who did her make-up the next day before the actress’ infamous appearance on the James Corden show, confirmed witnessing the raw damage done to Heard’s face, including bruising under the eyes and around the bridge of her nose as well as a busted lip. She importantly clarified that their only choice was to go with heavy make-up, strategically applied, to successfully cover up the injury to Heard’s face. This included a bright red lip and pinkish concealer that would counteract the glaring blue.  Iglesias stated of the actress at this point: “she was pro – after we touched it up, she went on to do a great show”. Depp’s team even showed the charming appearance in court to try to disprove the claim that Heard had been oppressed in any way. Iglesias stated that Amber would often wear natural-looking make-up so Depp’s witnesses who testified to seeing her out and about at that time would not have seen the visible marks. It should also be noted that neither aforementioned witness is friends with Heard anymore. Pennington implied the social intensity that’s plagued their relationship in recent years may have tragically caused the drift. “She had no self-preservation”, the former friend tearfully told the court. “I was so scared for her.” Iglesias also became emotional when explaining that the abuse Heard endured could no longer be denied.

Conversely, Depp’s team brought in a sea of disparate circumstantial witnesses: mostly biased adoring friends, such as gushing painter, Isaac Baruch, whose grand apartment Depp financed. His supporters, who have generally been linked to his payroll, from bodyguards and house managers to even Heard’s jilted former assistant, labelled Amber’s friends “conspirators” through purely the observation that they banded together while seeming to have fun. Heard’s lawyers retorted to the statement: “is it abnormal for someone who feels attacked to seek solace and escape in her friends?” Additionally to the wealth of corroborative candid testimony, there is hard photographic evidence of the damage done to Heard’s face immediately after the climactic altercation which was taken on third-party devices, significantly reducing the credibility of the claims of Depp’s lawyers that the actress tampered with or faked crucial proof.  

The salient, systematic ideological undercutting of the stoic defendant does not end there. In the run-up to the trial, Waldman shockingly leaked footage presenting Heard in a disparaging light where vital, underrepresented context was withheld. Audio recordings which were meant to be kept private until the time of the trial went viral, in which Heard admits to hitting Depp. This has been the cause of a lot of public hatred towards the actress, the digital driving of which is reminiscent of Steve Bannon’s circulation of bigoted racist propaganda before the election of Trump. Similarly manipulative, this would have primed an otherwise impartial jury and has majorly swayed public opinion. A social media expert confirmed the sky-rocketing of derogatory hashtags towards Heard, where 1 in 4 negative comments have been directly linked to Waldman. Here, key expert and clinical psychologist Dawn Hughes, who specialises in domestic violence, also gave crucial counteractive testimony on the often-complex conflicted dynamic that occurs in abusive relationships where women do “fight back”: a reactionary attempt at empowerment in a claustrophobically hopeless situation. Indeed, Heard has testified to feeling as if she is in a bubble, given the incredible stardom of Depp, where she stated that his entourage often blindly protected him. This aligns with the testimony of Depp’s bodyguard, Travis McGivern, who described witnessing Depp “rearranging Amber’s closet” as opposed to destroying her property. Hughes elaborated, dispelling a few myths around domestic violence: ‘physical size does become important in a fight between men and women. There’s a reason why they have a featherweight division in boxing’. She went on to state that she found the couples’ counsellor problematic, as they initially agreed that Depp engaged in abuse only to then state that “Amber gave as good as she got so that it was mutual abuse”. As actress Julia Fox summarised: “Did she hit him? Yes. Was it abuse? No. You need to have power to be able to abuse it. She was 25. He clearly was always way more powerful including physically and financially.” 

Amber Heard as Mera in Aquaman (2018)

Hughes also confirmed that Heard suffered PTSD. As a corollary to this, in a repeat of the proceeding of the libel case against The Sun, the court has been witness to abundant evidence documenting Depp’s controlling, jealous, paranoid, angry, and flat-out frightening destructive behaviour towards his ex-wife: from scathing sexist texts throughout their relationship, to defaced property, physical drunken rampages, commonly assaulting objects in “a show of psychological intimidation,” name-calling, swearing, slut-shaming and generally intimate invasiveness, including whether or not and how Heard worked – especially when it came to movies that involved romance or sex scenes such as London Fields (2018). A text to fellow actor Paul Bettany, for example, read: “Let’s burn Amber (…) Let’s drown her before we burn her. I will f*** her dead corpse to make sure she’s dead”. Exchanges with Heard also show Depp casually calling her ‘b****’ and ‘c***’ often. Visual footage from their especially volatile time in Australia shows unfinished paintings by Heard vandalised, broken glass strewn everywhere and the luxurious rental house completely wrecked. The most disturbing aspect of this was the aforementioned ‘messages’ scrawled in blood, which were directly addressed to Heard, apparently warning her of the trappings of stardom. One read: ‘be careful at top’. Another unnervingly scribbled communique referred to Carly Simon’s popular song ‘You’re So Vain’. A shocking video that Heard filmed in their kitchen further shows Depp in the middle of a belligerent fit, drinking copiously, smashing cupboards and glasses in the sink, and grunting “Motherf*****!”. Heard seems incredibly calm and even placatory. Not that this should matter. Mutual friend of the couple IO Tillet Wright, testified that Depp would frequently confide suspicious, mean and offensive thoughts about Heard, especially when intoxicated: “I thought Jesus Christ: he told me ‘all she’s got is her looks; she has no talent. When her t*** start to sag and her face gets wrinkled, no one is going to want to work with her. She better find another job.” On an audio tape, Depp has been caught calling Heard “fat a**” to which she shoots back: “lonely old man.” Actress Ellen Barkin has additionally reported Depp’s tendency towards possessiveness and ferocity in her testimony.  

Far from the dominant story being pumped in the press then, Depp does appear the primary aggressor. What is more, he contemptuously deflects, spurred on by a dismissive prosecution, not only denying any responsibility, but as Heard’s team rightly put it, continuing his onslaught of abuse in public. This predominantly includes projection of the reality of his hostile behaviour onto Heard: textbook gaslighting, to humiliate her and destabilise an alternative account to regain ultimate male authority. His attorney Vasquez’ concluding statement in court was that Heard is: “deeply disturbed.” This not only hurts the young actress but also universally stigmatises the voices of many strong outspoken women to essentially ‘put them in their place’. Indeed, why did Depp not simply author his own expressive piece in response to Heard’s allegations? Given the magnitude of his fame, this would surely have garnered the same ubiquitous attention. Why not, in fact, sue The Washington Post? No, he targets Heard tyrannically: a rising actress, who through her own merit, was on the cusp of huge commercial success.

The legal tornado set in motion by Depp in recent years has entirely engulfed the buzz of Heard’s break-through role as Mera, the female lead in blockbuster Aquaman (2018) where she performed well. To make matters worse, the last week of the trial saw Depp give testimony that suggested he had secured Amber’s big role for her rather than it being awarded through her talent. Heard asserts that she gave the standard audition where the claim is corroborated by director, James Wan, who has professionally endorsed her. Heard has also performed notably in comedies such as Pineapple Express (2008) and Zombieland (2009). Thus, in truth, it is Depp who defames Heard. We are seeing in real-time how his formal ‘smear campaign’ has been extended from the intimate atrocity of the couple’s own relationship. From physical to psychological and emotional abuse, Depp has proven explicitly guilty, but continues to attempt to dramatically cover it up, intensively scapegoating the actress. Proof did surface that his team photoshopped an image to make it appear as if the defendant had punched him on their honeymoon. The defence showed the same photo posted on the official Facebook page of the Orient Express where the couple were at the time, looking markedly different to the scenario presented by prosecution: Depp looked perfectly fine.  

Indeed, why did Depp not simply author his own expressive piece in response to Heard’s allegations? Given the magnitude of his fame, this would surely have garnered the same ubiquitous attention. Why not, in fact, sue The Washington Post?

From the focus on the ‘many rings’ on his fingers which his side suggest ‘would surely incur more injury’ to bringing in questionable authorities on mental health such as board-uncertified Dr. Shannon Curry, who was rightly critiqued for targeting those with BPD, and generally having Heard trash-talked by a plethora of unreliable witnesses, Depp has incriminatingly created a deluge of damning distraction to divert from substantial fact. In short, he boasts his guilt. This extends to the slick yet intimidating prosecution who compensated for his inarticulate meandering on the stand in the first week of the trial and do comparatively present better than the sometimes-bumbling council of Heard: objecting during their own cross-examination and leading lawyer, Elaine Bredehofte, constantly forgetting to turn on the microphone when addressing the presiding Judge Penney Azcarate spring to mind. However, they do ultimately play fair, highlighting the moralistically meaningful.

Heard’s first day on the stand was incredibly eloquent and moving. She has gently but firmly reinvigorated her ongoingly marginalised narrative.  Bredehofte later also recuperatively brought forward Depp’s ex-agent who delivered bombshell testimony: she pivotally testified that the often drunk and/or ‘high’ actor had been cumulatively losing work due to being hours, sometimes days, late to set and his “unprofessional” behaviour. “He did not correct it,” she said, “it made people reluctant to use him”. She went on to imply that Depp’s losing his place on the sixth instalment of the Pirates of The Caribbean franchise was therefore most likely his fault. She also confirmed that Depp had underlying “issues with anger” and finished by saying: “His stardom was dimming due to reputation, and these lawsuits aren’t helping either.” This not only emphasises Depp’s complete lack of accountability but also his chronic inability to accept that much of the negative press is brought onto him by himself. This reflects an acutely toxic narcissism, often at the core of abusive interaction, wherein the other is devastated in lieu of healthy acknowledgement of their own mistakes and affecting proactive change. 

Depp destroys himself and further drags Heard down with him. Of course, his prosecution aimed to cast her documenting of him in an outlandish light, but her claims that she had begun to photograph and record Depp to prove to the actor himself that he did pass out and lose control regularly is compelling. Indeed, the last week of the trial saw Depp refuting megalomaniac texts that he had sent. They read: “What I need, I want, I take”. Depp was seen looking incredulous, stating: “that’s ludicrous: there’s not enough hubris in me to say that”. Yet he certainly had. In fact, it seems the harder Heard fights, the more vengefully obstinate and evasive Depp becomes. By contrast, Heard is audibly apologetic in many recordings and aware of her misgivings. Throughout, she seems only to be assertively, understandably standing up for herself. She consistently exhibits a balanced grounded awareness, and broadly registers well. Though her defence do appear to exaggerate at times, it is comparatively marginal compared to the many blatant superficial lies of Depp’s side. Such is the nature of this particularly incendiary legal beast. Depp’s certainly challenging relationship with Heard was the final strain on the proverbial showbiz back. Rather than being the sole cause of his downfall, she unflinchingly mirrors misogynistic fault. This is what aggravates him and, in turn, the traditional media for whom he is currently the masthead. Not the stereotypical cowed victim nor playing into feminine bubbly allure, Heard celebrates unfiltered female subjectivity, driving her personal ambition as well as showing reactionary distress. Championing her totality, she challenges the gender norm as she did the disparity in the relationship. The couple were unquestionably doomed. The actress’ forgiving but dominant personality enabled and hooked Depp: he explained during the opening weeks of the trial how he was triggered by her maternal push to regulate the messy dimension of his personality which reminded him of his authoritarian mother. In turn, Heard testified that his proud brutish machismo activated her need to redress haunting childhood trauma: her father would physically beat her and her younger sister, as well as her late mother. The publicization of this certainly damaged Depp’s superior status but it did so fundamentally because of his nihilistic compulsion, which is primarily on him.

This is what he and his team cannot seem to fathom. They shift blame onto the defiantly autonomous Heard as if her position is transgressive, exploiting popular patriarchy which discounts equally fiery female motivation and difficult vulnerability. But her only vice was not being able to leave a noxious battle sooner rather than later. Heard’s sister Whitney, explained that the actress became increasingly insomniac, introverted and very anxious during and after her time with Depp. Much of this was caused by the futile effort to try to help him so that they could enjoy a mutually affirmative relationship. She continued to try to launch her own successful career while constantly being lashed out at: “he did not want me to work.” Clearly luminous, she was justifiably tired of living in the murky shadow of Depp. Pennington described her as losing weight and looking as if a skeleton. The unrecognised unequal macrocosm of their relationship was reflected in the microcosm of the prosecution in opening weeks when they tried to pin additional handwriting that clearly belonged to Depp on Heard despite what was described as the “three-day hostage situation” in Australia being wholly enacted by him. Even if she did reply to one of his twisted messages in lipstick, which she absolutely did not, it would not change the fact that the majority of that awfulness was perpetrated by him. 

Heard, who herself has said she doesn’t like labels, or reduction to simplistic summary, is chastised for attempting to embarrass Depp by citing his inability to overcome his dependence on mind-altering substances as the fuel for his abuse. However, her nuanced portrayal is geared towards presenting her former husband as, at least, unwittingly malign. She often praises him for his potential to be wonderful even through the darkest times and tries to explain that this ‘monstrous’ side to him, Depp’s own term for what he’s forced to confront, was manageable when he cared. Her friends who’d become fond of him also credited his intelligence, generosity and warmth when sober. The public, by extension, has been highly sympathetic towards the megastar despite the ugly side of him coming conspicuously to light. Indeed, he continues to be witty and charming on the stand even as he wrecks Heard’s social dignity, glamourises sexism and leads a serious witch hunt. However, this corroborates Hughes’ testimony of the typical cycle of abuse, wherein the attractive potential of an abuser keeps one sentimentally invested, especially when they do demonstrate that they are capable of reform. For his part, Depp has been mostly malicious: savagely slandering his former lover; spreading a dated concept of romantic womanhood idolisation or, when it goes wrong, demonising her. He has had demeaning evidence played in court that states there was no chemistry between Heard and her co-star Momoa in Aquaman and a callous recording of the actor tells Heard: “I do not want to be with you anymore.” He seems to consciously stir the actress’ anxieties, preying upon her fragility, where she seems to genuinely consider his struggle and want relational peace: “if you keep splitting (meaning leaving), the argument goes unresolved,” she is heard telling him on a recording. Furthermore, Depp has cynically constructed her in the pervasive imagination as a one-dimensional, millennial femme fatale: flaunting multiple moneyed lovers, chasing his many millions, sneakily eliciting empathy and having many catty, petty fights with her female friends. 

However, the rational reality is that Heard is a multifaceted passionate being who is also human. She deserves the same degree of understanding and respect as massive celebrity Depp, in place of condescending nasty judgement. Also resolute and, of course, flawed, she is not given anywhere near as much of the benefit of doubt as her entitled erroneous ex. If Depp slips but fights, he is viewed as hip; if she becomes embroiled and wants out, she’s part of an evil cult. Resoundingly, in this matter, Amber Heard is Not Guilty. She has written of her knowledge of the bizarre yet very real domestic violence to which she has been subjected and now we all know. “Death threats, taunting fans, and shirts branding her a liar,” still incur modern “culture’s wrath”, as she wrote in her original piece. The jury is deliberating at length over the weekend. Hopefully they will vote in favour of egalitarian empowerment. This would not simply be the best outcome for the star-crossed couple, but also a reassuring victory for collective advanced consciousness. Heard’s lawyers stated that she had the right to free speech, but in actuality, also to be free. Her authentic feminist writing deserves to be honoured, the actress vindicated, and Depp, at the end of it, would still have cathartically broadcasted a final say. Collaborative feminine compassion, here, is the corrective counterbalancing way. This is the remedial example at such a myopically masculine time

Featured image by Sergey Zolkin on StockSnap

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  1. This is a great write up… Thank you!
    Say what you will about Amber Heard. For all of her problems, Johnny Depp has shown himself to be no better. He can gloat and crow and fist bump with his adoring fans over his win in court all he wants — it doesn’t change the fact that he still comes across as a vengeful prima-donna.

    In his own words, Depp wanted his ex-wife to suffer “global humiliation”. That’s exactly what he got — thanks to an ugly and disturbingly misogynistic smear campaign that at worst, Depp knowingly encouraged, or at the very least, tacitly approved of.

    Depp clearly couldn’t care less that his ex-wife and those who testified on her behalf have received death threats. His claim that he’s the real victim of abuse is ironic given that he’s shown no concern whatsoever for those who’ve been targeted by his more fanatical fans — all thanks to a trial that Depp and his ruthless lawyers instigated and insisted be made public.

    If Depp really cared about abuse victims, he might’ve at least tried to discourage his fans from turning the trial into a public circus. He could’ve denounced the extreme public hate towards Heard, or at the very least, publicly condemned the death threats she’s received.

    But a de-escalation of the angry mob who continues to harass Heard even after the trial has ended was not what Depp wanted. He wanted revenge. It was never just about “clearing his name”.

    Depp’s defamation lawsuit was a childish attempt on his part to have the last word. He HATED that the UK trial dismissed his lawsuit based on evidence that Depp had, in fact, abused his wife multiple times. To Depp, this was a zero-sum battle to gain the upper hand by seeing Heard brought low.

    So to soothe his fragile ego, Depp decided to sue Heard for penning an op-ed he probably didn’t care enough about to read at first since it didn’t mention him. Imagine an international celebrity and multi-millionaire like Johnny Depp (who owns a private island or two) whining about how an op-ed that didn’t even mention him ruined his life. Boo hoo.

    They’ve both done awful things. It’s obvious they brought out the worst in each other. In the end, none of us will ever know for sure who was worse behind closed doors, no matter how closely we’ve followed this sordid tale.

    Yet Depp’s money and fame have largely shielded him from the same vitriol and hateful public backlash his ex-wife now faces.

    Johnny Depp is put on a pedestal, when in reality, he appears to be as petty and as vindictive of a narcissist as Amber Heard is perceived to be.


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