The Media’s Disturbing Reaction to the Johnny Depp Trial


Credit: Getty Images, Hello Magazine


When Aquaman actress Amber Heard published an Op-Ed in the New York Times in December of 2018, the world was abuzz, shocked by Ms. Heard’s claims that Johnny Depp, Hollywood’s beloved Captain Jack Sparrow, was a domestic abuser. The media’s frenzy over Depp’s alleged actions only intensified in light of the suit he filed against his ex-wife: fifty million dollars in the name of defamation.


In the summer of 2020, Mr. Depp took to the courtroom in a different suit, defending his name against The Sun, a British newspaper that had referred to him as a “wife-beater”. In mid-November of that same year, the court ruled against Mr. Depp, citing that the paper’s characterization was not libel. Shortly following this ruling, in a perfunctory, yet well-intentioned show of solidarity for victims of abuse everywhere, Mr. Depp was asked to resign from his role as Gellert Grindelwald in “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.”


Despite public outcry, Mr. Depp maintained his innocence, attempting several times to appeal the court’s decision with no luck. As Mr. Depp continued to defend his name, Ms. Heard only raised the stakes: counter-suing her ex-husband for one hundred million dollars after her motion to move the case to California had been denied. In early April of this year, the long-anticipated trial finally commenced, and as witnesses have taken the stand, I’ve noticed a disturbing pattern emerge in the response of the populace.


To preface this, I wholeheartedly believe that Mr. Depp is a victim of domestic abuse at the hands of Ms. Heard. The severance of his middle finger, coupled with the explosive audio recording in which Ms. Heard manipulates her ex-husband by insisting that she was, “hitting, not punching [him]”, has left no doubt in my mind about the true perpetrator of abuse in this relationship. Additionally, this case and the media attention it has received are incredibly important in destigmatizing the role of men as victims in cases of domestic abuse.


Nonetheless, Mr. Depp’s victimhood doesn’t clear him from all other wrongdoings. His defense of Harvey Weinstein and serial rapist Roman Polaski, his relationships with Winona Ryder and Polina Glen at the ripe age of seventeen, while he was 30 and 48, respectively, his homophobia, transphobia, and casual usage of the “n-word”, are not suddenly excused.


Yet, on TikTok (where #justiceforjohnnydepp has received 1.1 billion views) and other social media platforms, I’ve noticed a sort of idolization of Mr. Depp and a glorification of this situation. What is currently unraveling in the courtroom is nothing short of utterly disturbing: a man reliving the years of abuse he suffered through explicit audio recordings of each quarrel, vivid imagery of the injuries he sustained. Despite this, there is no shortage of content deeming Mr. Depp as an “icon”, claiming that he is “slaying” for what trial viewers perceive as snarky responses to questions asked by Ms. Heard’s attorneys.


The use of such casual language in such a serious matter is vulgar. The desensitization of our generation towards these proceedings is truly concerning. Mr. Depp is not a “legend” or a “king” or any of the other crooning titles that he has been bestowed by stan culture. He is extremely flawed, but this doesn’t invalidate his status as a victim of abuse that has been forced to relive his trauma for the past month. I struggle to think of any situation that should be glorified less.


Additionally, as I previously stated, I view this case as very important for male victims of abuse. However, this doesn’t discredit the large male population that have taken a sudden interest in this case as a sort of “a-ha” moment against women who have come forward about domestic abuse. In videos published online about the case, I’ve noticed the comment section flooded with false equivalencies of Mr. Depp and Ms. Heard’s situation to all others.


“Amber Heard is like all other women,” one user comments under a viral video containing clips of Mr. Depp from the trial, “she lies about abuse and the media falls for it. This ‘always believe the victim’ mantra is BS!” That comment had thirty-six thousand likes as of the afternoon of May 1. While I appreciate that this case is validating male victims of abuse, it is also enabling misogynists to push the dangerous narrative that all women who speak out about their abuse are lying. The perpetuation of this version of events would be devastating.


Ultimately, while I in no way intend to undermine the extensive abuse that Mr. Depp suffered at the hands of Ms. Heard, his mistreatment doesn’t absolve him of a thoroughly problematic past, and furthermore, shouldn’t give bigots a platform to campaign that female victims of domestic abuse are con artists. Though I’ve always been aware of the strong influence of social media on my generation, the media response to this case has been a different sort of awakening for me. Our future seems grave in this society where we glorify assault, idolize incredibly troubled figures, and choose “sides” between an abuser and the abused as if a multi-million dollar court case is a petty online feud.