Johnny Depp dreamed about murdering his then-wife, actress Amber Heard, in text conversations to friends. Depp wrote, “I’ll f#ck her burning body later to make sure she’s dead.” He disparaged his wife’s physique in luridly sexist terms in other texts. He referred to her as “mushy meaningless hanging overused floppy fish market.”
The texts were made public as part of Depp’s defamation lawsuit against Heard, which is currently on trial in Virginia. Supposedly, Depp is suing Heard for a 2018 Washington Post article titled “I spoke up against sexual violence – and suffered our culture’s fury.” “Two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse,” the actress writes in the article. Although the story does not specify Depp, his lawyers claim that it was about him and that it was defamatory. Depp is asking $50 million for just 11 phrases.
He was deemed deserving by the jury. The case’s judgement was announced on Wednesday, and it found that Heard defamed Depp and acted with “malice” when she represented herself as a victim of domestic abuse. Surprisingly, the same jury determined that one of Depp’s lawyers defamed Heard by calling her assault story “a fake.” Even though the jury was not sequestered, the verdict came after a trial that was televised — an extraordinarily rare occurrence for a proceeding involving charges of domestic violence – and was subject to practically unavoidable media coverage, nearly all of it in favor of one defendant. The bizarre, illogical, and unjust verdict effectively legitimizes Depp’s alleged abuse of Heard while punishing Heard for coming out about it. It will have a disastrous effect on survivors, who will now be silenced because they are afraid of being sued for libel if they speak out about their horrific experiences at the hands of men. In that sense, women’s speech has become far less liberated.
Many of those who tuned in to watch the trial live-streamed online have treated Heard with the same disrespect that Depp exhibited in his texts over the past six weeks. On the internet, there is widespread agreement that Heard is lying about her abuse. She has been accused of Photoshopping bruises onto images of her injuries from Depp’s purported beatings. She’s accused of persuading many witnesses who claim Depp assaulted her for years to lie — repeatedly and under oath. The facts of the case do not support these conspiracy ideas, but that hasn’t stopped them from spreading. The case has taken on a mythic quality online, and people continue to believe in Depp’s innocence despite the lack of evidence.
Any cruelty can be justified in the service of this lie. Heard became tearful on the stand as she described how Depp allegedly struck her, twisted and controlled her, surveilled her, and sexually attacked her. Following that, ordinary individuals, as well as a few celebrities and even corporations such as Duolingo and Milani, flocked to social media to insult or denigrate Heard. They developed a meme out of screenshots of her crying face. Many mocked her testimony by lip-syncing along as she described the alleged abuse. The video of her crying became viral on TikTok. The jury has now joined in and reinforced this cruelty, declaring that she broke the law by relaying her experience, rather than criticizing her for doing so.
This isn’t the first time Depp has filed a lawsuit in response to the allegations. Depp sued the British newspaper the Sun for defamation after an article referred to him as a “wife beater,” and a British court heard his case in 2020. Although British courts are more receptive to defamation allegations than American courts, Depp was unable to prevail: the British judge decided that the Sun’s portrayal of Depp was “basically truthful.” Depp physically abused Heard on at least 12 instances, according to the same trial. Despite this, the actor and his supporters argue that it was Heard, not Depp, who abused their marriage.
The trial has devolved into a public misogyny orgy. While the majority of the hate is ostensibly addressed at Heard, it’s difficult not to get the impression that it’s really meant at all women – particularly those of us who spoke out about gendered abuse and sexual assault during the #MeToo era. The minor advances won during that era are being retracted with a gleeful display of victim-blaming on a global scale, and we are in the midst of a ferocious antifeminist reaction. One woman has been turned into a symbol of a movement that many people fear and despise, and she is being punished for it. Heard is still in an abusive relationship in this way. But now it’s not just about Depp; it’s about the entire country.
Amber Heard‘s life has been devoured by the fury and retribution of Depp and his admirers since she published her Post post. This reality has been lost in the outrage and spectacle of the case: it is Heard, not Depp, who is on trial, and she is on trial for claiming things whose truth is established by the complaint itself. Depp’s bogus and punitive lawsuit, as well as the ensuing flurry of misogynist hatred for Heard, have done a lot to justify Heard’s original point: that women are punished for speaking up. What happens to women who claim to have been abused? They are publicly chastised, professionally blacklisted, socially ostracized, mocked on social media incessantly, and sued. Wrath, to be sure.
However, the trial’s mainstream press has failed to recognize this. Instead, Heard’s errors and worst moments throughout her relationship with Depp have received a lot of attention. Heard appears to have done things that many of us would not be proud of, as is typical with domestic abuse victims. She retaliated. Heard was bitter and upset with Depp as a result of his outbursts and insults, and she told him so at times. Many people are eager to point out that Heard isn’t the ideal victim. The lawsuit is said to be “complex.” No woman, on the other hand, is. The lawsuit is described as “complex.” However, the case is straightforward. It is a form of exploitation. A jury has now found that the abuse was legal.
Perhaps the persistence of the notion that Heard is equally responsible for what happened to her is why the trial has been dubbed “the death of Me Too” by the New York Times’ Michelle Goldberg: it demonstrates how easily a victim can still be blamed and isolated, how easily what happened to her can be interpreted as a failure of her personal character rather than as part of a social pattern. Although not all women are the same, feminism was designed to show us how we are all subject to gendered violence as well as gendered double standards and unjust guilt. There is no such thing as an ideal victim. No one should have to be a victim. After all, if a man cannot be deemed violent toward an imperfect woman, how flawless must a woman be before beating her is regarded wrong?
Depp’s followers, for their part, appear to approve of Depp’s alleged aggression against Heard rather than dispute it. One viral Tiktok in support of Depp says, “He could have killed you,” superimposed over photographs of Heard’s damaged face. “He had every right to be there.” More than 222,200 people have liked the post.
The #MeToo reaction has been going on for a while now. From the beginning, critics of the movement characterized women’s efforts to end sexual violence as extravagant and intemperate, stating that #MeToo had “gone too far” before it even got started. Nonetheless, the Heard trial appears to be a watershed moment in our culture’s response to gender violence. Because they were briefly suppressed, the forces of sexist backlash may now be even stronger. Where once women stood united in their refusal to maintain men’s secrets or remain silent about the truth of their own lives, a revival of misogyny, caustic internet abuse, and the fear of lawsuits are now all aimed at forcing women back into silence – by force.
In some ways, the defamation suit may be seen as a continuation of Depp’s abuse of Heard, a tactic to keep her humiliated and under his control. The only difference now is that the judicial system and the general people have been forced to participate. This appears to be how Depp perceives it, at least in part. When Depp and Heard’s marriage fell apart in 2016, Johnny contacted his pal Christian Carino, threatening vengeance on Heard. Depp wrote, “She is begging for global humiliation.” “She’ll get it,” says the narrator.