The trial of Johnny Depp-Amber Heard was also a moment of reflection

The Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial isn’t just another story of celebrity squabbles. This is the story of a Hollywood superstar accused of aggravated domestic abuse by his ex-wife, a media trial, the toxicity of celebrity culture and misogyny toward his accusers—often abusive and vicious.

As I write this column, the jury is in the U.S. state of Virginia to hear a high-profile defamation battle between the two that has entered its deliberations.

Johnny Depp sued Amber Heard for defamation after writing an op-ed for The Washington Post in 2018, calling himself a “public figure representing domestic abuse.” While her article didn’t mention Depp, he said the reference was obvious, and that he lost millions of dollars in movie deals because of the work.

More than a year later, Amber Heard filed a $100 million countersuit against Depp, alleging that Depp defamed her by suggesting her allegations of abuse were false. The case went to trial last month.

There’s no question that Depp and Hurd are doing very well after the six-week trial. Both have troubling allegations of physical, verbal and emotional abuse.

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Actor Johnny Depp as he testifies in court during his defamation trial against ex-wife Amber Heard in Fairfax County Circuit Court in Fairfax, Virginia, U.S., May 25, 2022 react.REUTERS/Evelyn Hawkstein/Pool
Image credit: Associated Press

In one recording, Heard admitted to hitting Depp as well. Text messages Depp sent to his friends as evidence he said he wanted to hurt his ex-wife. In one, he said he wanted to “kill Heard and rape her charred body”.

Heard told the court that Depp allegedly drunk and violently abused her over the years, allegedly slapping her, grabbing her hair, pushing her against a wall and throwing objects at her.

Her lawyer backed that up with photos of Heard with bruises on his face, violent text messages from Depp and a recording of Heard apparently pleading with him to put down the knife.

His lawyers called the allegations “crazy and unbelievable,” while Depp insisted Heard was the aggressor.

Harassment and humiliation

Taking a stand last week, Hurd broke down in tears as she described the harassment and humiliation she faced on social media and on camera. She said she faced death threats on a daily basis. “It’s easy to forget, but I’m alone,” she said.

With the trial being broadcast live every day, it’s clear it’s going to be a media and social media circus — just like the OJ Simpson case in the 1990s.

Over the past few weeks, vicious tik tok videos have been made, stealing Heard’s testimony, and then mocking and abusing her for it. Some had to be removed due to backlash against their offensiveness.

Much of Depp’s support comes from his loyal and huge fan base around the world. They actively discredited Hurd on social media, smearing her reputation and questioning the bruises on her face.

The website Boom live has detailed misogyny, noting that the social media hashtags against Hurd are real. One expert said that between 2020 and 2021, the number of tags targeting Amber Heard exceeded one million.

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Photographs of actor Johnny Depp and his ex-wife actor Amber Heard with Orient Express train crews were introduced to court screens at the end of their honeymoon in Singapore in 2015. Fairfax County Circuit Court in Fairfax, Virginia, Wednesday, May 25, 2022. Depp wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post in 2018 calling himself “a public figure representing domestic abuse.” (Evelyn Hawkstein/Pool Photo via The Associated Press)
Image credit: Associated Press

#JusticeForJohnnyDepp tops the list. Derogatory hashtags like #AmberHeardIsAnAbuser and #WeJustDon’tLikeYou are trending at the same time.

What many people forget is that Johnny Depp lost an earlier case in the UK suing The Sun for running a headline calling him a “wife beater”. A British judge said 12 of the 14 allegations that Depp had abused Heard were true.

Amber Heard also received a domestic violence restraining order in 2016.

But that doesn’t seem to matter to Depp Baquets’ army. Whether this social media activity was organic or deliberate is unclear.

For victims of domestic violence, the trial was a triggering experience. It’s not easy for many people to come forward and talk about the abuse they’ve endured. The backlash against Amber Heard may make many more weary of coming forward.

The way this trial has played out in the public consciousness says a lot about how we as a society view domestic abuse. We should be deeply ashamed.