Talking point

Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard: a troubling verdict?

The news that Depp had won his defamation case against Heard unleashed an ‘orgy of misogyny’

When the news was announced that Johnny Depp had won his defamation case against Amber Heard, I “instinctively let out a little whoop”, said Sarah Vine in the Daily Mail. As the six-week long trial in Virginia reminded us, Depp is no saint. “But it’s one thing to be a troubled individual with multiple substance and behavioural issues and quite another to be an abuser.” When in 2018 Heard, recently divorced from Depp, wrote an article in The Washington Post claiming to represent “domestic abuse”, the #MeToo movement was at its height. It had exposed some shocking behaviour, but it also tended to see “men as predators, women as victims”. And as a result of her allegations, Depp was “cancelled”: he lost film roles, and was branded a “wife beater”. But then he fought back, and his lawyers exposed Heard’s “tenuous” relationship with the truth. “The jury gave me my life back,” Depp declared. 

Actually, this verdict was a “travesty”, said Michelle Goldberg in The New York Times. The jury decided that Heard had defamed Depp with “malice”, and awarded him $10m. But it also found that Depp’s lawyers had defamed Heard (awarding her $2m) when they accused her of staging a “hoax” scene of abuse to which police were called at the couple’s home. If the police call wasn’t a hoax, then presumably she had in fact suffered abuse at Depp’s hands. And the jury heard plenty of evidence suggesting that he was abusive towards her: texts, for instance, in which he joked about killing her and having sex with her burnt corpse. The verdict doesn’t make much sense and its repercussions are horrifying. All victims of abuse must now face the possibility that “they could end up being bankrupted by their abusers”. Depp’s friend Marilyn Manson is already suing the actress Evan Rachel Wood for alleging sadistic abuse at his hands. 

The verdict was the opposite to that reached by an English judge in 2020, said Catherine Bennett in The Observer. Why? Partly because juries are more likely than judges to be swayed by classic “Darvo” defence tactics (“deny, attack and reverse victim and offender”). And partly because the case was televised, unusually for one concerning domestic abuse, and became a media circus. It unleashed an “orgy of misogyny”, said Moira Donegan in The Guardian. Heard has been vilified across the world as a lying gold-digger. After she testified that Depp had sexually assaulted her, people took to social media in their millions to mock her. Screenshots of her weeping face became memes. It all proves the point that Heard made in her original article: that women who allege abuse are “pilloried” for coming forward.

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