The Depp-Heard Case Leaves Questions For Our Culture
The world is gripped by the defamation trial of the decade that sees veteran actor Johnny Depp take on ex-wife Amber Heard. As Dayt
What is At Stake?
The defamation trial involves a 2018 Washington Post article, “I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change”. Depp alleges that the article clearly references him, even though Heard has alleged that it did not, while also defending her position by saying that she was indeed the victim of abuse. The article does not explicitly mention Depp, but the context of the article suggests that the article was written with reference to Depp. A lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) admitted that Heard told them the article was written about Depp and tha t once the article was published, everyone recognised the article was about Depp. Depp alleges that the article hurt his income to the tune of the $50 million he is suing Heard for. Heard is counter-suing for $100 million.
Depp’s lawyers have successfully argued that the context of the article is sufficient to make a claim of defamation regardless of the fact that Heard did not explicitly mention him, the bigger issue for Depp is the high threshold for proving defamation, a threshold which is even higher for celebrities, whose reputation may fall from a number of factors. Normally, Depp would be expected to fail in this case. However, observers have noted that Depp is winning the PR wars, with social media and even celebrities, largely on his side.
How the Case is Going
At the start of the process, Depp’s reputation was in tatters, but as the case proceeded, Depp’s reputation has improved. Depp has taken a huge risk with his case, accepting the collateral damage of revelations about his lifestyle and substance abuse problems, in the belief that the balance of stories will show that Heard, rather than him, is the abuser.
Heard has made numerous allegations of domestic abuse, including that she was sexually assaulted with a bottle, suffered broken ribs and a broken nose, and was often forced to wear make up to cover her injuries. Heard has been eloquent in mzaking her allegations, painting frightful pictures of domestic abuse throughout their relationship. Her case however has weakened, as revelations of her own physical and verbal abuse has triggered questions in the media about “mutual abuse” and power dynamics in toxic relationships.
Both sides have brought forward a number of experts to bolster their cases. The key experts so far have been the testimony of psychologists Drs. Shannon Curry and Dawn Hughes. Curry, as with much of the Depp case, earned rave reviews with the public.
Two sides have emerged with this case. As the trial has evolved, commentators siding with Heard have shifted to a broader rhetoric that fears that this case will set back the #MeToo movement and women’s rights, lunch as the Jussie Smollet case did with hate crimes against the LGBTQ community. Some on this side still believe Heard, but her case rests almost entirely without any witnesses to the abuse, whereas Depp has marshalled evidence of abuse done to him, including a severed finger. This does not mean that Depp is innocent, it does mean that Heard’s case is tougher to defend than many expected. As viewers of ethics CEU webinars will understand, navigating this issue is extremely complex. On the other end; defenders of Depp have argued that Heard’s behavior is incongruent with that of a victim of domestic abuse, and the case shows the extent to which men are the victims of domestic abuse in heterosexual relationships.
Regardless of the outcome of the case, two things will emerge: it will be harder to cancel people accused of domestic abuse because clearly, there is a chance that the allegations are false. On average, this is not the case, but the possibility will certainly give pause for thought. Potentially, this means that many women with legitimate claims of domestic abuse will not come forward. Secondly, domestic abuse of men has become a bigger issue than anyone could have thought. Our culture is not used to thinking of men as victims; especially given the size and strength differential that exists on average.