By Yasmin Rapley
*TRGGER WARNING - references to domestic Abuse*
As Johnny Depp’s court case has unfolded over the last few months, it’s clear to see that the Hollywood star, in attempting to clear his name, has in fact brought greater attention to himself and his reckless lifestyle. His drug-taking, alcoholism and domestic abuse acts against Amber Heard have been aired for all the world to see. As expected, Heard has also been criticised, with Depp, and his fans, suggesting that she was the abuser. It has been a relentless back and forth between both parties. Now, the results are in: the judge has ruled that 12 of 14 allegations of assaults on Amber Heard have been ‘proved to the civil standard’, decreeing that The Sun’s labelling of Depp as a ‘wife-beater’ was ‘substantially true’. This, in itself, seems to be a suggestion of progress for movements such as #metoo and Times up; a successful, wealthy and respected man has been held accountable. However, will such defamation of Depp actually bring with it results? As Heard continues to be ridiculed as a liar, and #JusticeforJohnny trends on Twitter, it seems increasingly clear that there is still much further to go in recognising and understanding abuse.
The events of Amber Heard and Johnny Depp’s tumultuous relationship were first brought to the publics attention back in 2016. Heard filed for divorce as well as getting a restraining order against Depp; on the grounds that she had been abused during their relationship. However, the divorce, at least to public knowledge, ensued amicably, with both parties coming to a settlement and the restraining order withdrawn. Later on, in 2018, Heard wrote an article for the Washington Post. She explained that when she had spoken out about domestic abuse, she felt, ‘the full force of our culture’s wrath’, and had seen first hand how, 'institutions protect men accused of abuse’. Depp’s name was never mentioned in the article, but the press assumed it was about Depp, and it tarnished his reputation. He went on to sue Heard, claiming the allegations as false, and turning the allegations back on her — this case is still ongoing.
(Image from The Sun)
Most recently, as has been splattered across headlines for the last 3 months, Depp began his libel trial in July against News Group Newspapers (NGN) and The Sun. He sued both the publisher and the now Executive Editor who wrote the ‘wife-beater’ headline. Throughout this process, intimate details of their relationship have been aired out to the public like dirty laundry. It is not often that the public is allowed a window into the intimate details of an A-Listers life of debauchery, making the claims from the trial all the more shocking.
Throughout the proceedings, there have been polarised opinions on either side. Inevitably, Depp has garnered a strong support base over his many years in the industry. Indeed, no fan wants to see their favourite actor branded as an abuser, and many have protested his innocence. They suggest that Heard is ‘manipulative’ and ‘the abuser’ in the situation. On the other side of the coin, many have suggested that siding with Depp is rooted in misogyny; an attempt at silencing women who have been abused.
However, it is important to come to understand that domestic abuse situations are rarely black or white. For example, in many situations of domestic abuse, the victim does return physical abuse to the abuser; it can be a toxic cycle. Therefore, it is easy to lean one way or the other and brand either side as the ‘monster’ without truly considering the complexities. When looking at the case between Heard and Depp, it is undeniable that both parties carry incriminating evidence for their claims. Such examples include a phone recording of Heard saying, ‘I can’t promise you I won’t get physical again’, to messages found between Depp and his friend Paul Bettany, where he writes: ‘let’s burn Amber. let’s drown her before we burn her!'. It is clear there was toxicity from both sides.
Nonetheless, the issue has now been taken to court, and the evidence has been looked at from either side in a professional and legal matter. Regardless of what the media has dictated over the past months, and regardless of the Twitter war’s defending Depp, the judge’s ruling has been set. Amber Heard was a victim of domestic abuse, with 12 out of 14 allegations proved. Such instances of abuse include Depp slapping and hitting Heard, pulling her hair, or in one instance throwing a phone at her face.
In light of these incidents being made public, as well as judged and proven in court, it seems important to reflect on the media trial that also took place. It is evident that Heard has been harshly mistreated. She has been ridiculed, dismissed and criticised by the press as well as social media trolls. I, myself, will admit that I think Depp is extremely talented. I have enjoyed many of his films, and find his acting to be extremely well crafted. I too, found it difficult to believe he could have said or done such abhorrent things. This itself is the crux of the issue. Power, success and talent can allow abusers to be placed on a pedestal, and the other party to be dismissed.
It seems ludicrous to think that people will willingly defend an abuser, but unfortunately within the institutions that surround this world of glitz and glamour, it is a running theme. Just the other day, the sad news was released that Sean Connery had died. Many stars jumped to praise him on their socials for his talent, yet Connery is a known abuser, often saying in interviews that it was ‘okay to hit women’. I am also reminded of the distressing photos released of Rhianna’s bruised face in 2009 — the results of an attack from her then-boyfriend Chris Brown. Although the most public incident, Brown has actually been accused of multiple acts of abuse on different women. For example, in 2017, his ex-girlfriend, Karrueche Tran, filed a restraining order against him, after he had, in her words, threatened to kill her. Nevertheless, Brown continues to thrive in his field, recently releasing another Chart-Topping Single. These abusive men seem to get a free pass under the premise that they are successful, but surely this should not be the case?
Famous actors carry more with them than just a career. They hold privileges and respected positions in society. They are given a platform to influence others, to become an idol to their fans. When we refuse to listen to the damning evidence against Depp, we are condoning abuse. Regardless of what picture is painted by the press, or what fans are intent on believing, it is time to accept that talent is not an excuse to accept abusive behaviour. Many domestic abuse charities have hailed the courts decision as progress; the court result will allow other women to feel they too can speak out. Indeed, Depp has been asked to resign from Fantastic Beasts; another mark of progress. I can only hope that the whole of Hollywood, and his fans, will also follow behind.
If you are looking for support and are a victim of domestic abuse please reach out for help :
24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline : 0808 2000 247