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Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard: Celebrity Trials in the Digital Age

The trial of Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard seems to get away not only in court but also on social media, where millions of people "play" the role of lawyers.

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard

Photo: YT-Law&Crime Network

LatinAmerican Post | Vanesa López Romero

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Leer en español: Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard: los juicios celebrities en plena era digital

Since last April 11, the defamation trial between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard has been taking place. Both actors are both defendants and plaintiffs for an alleged defamation. The situation has put both their careers and finances in jeopardy . Throughout these two weeks we have seen (and we will surely continue to see it in the remaining 4 weeks) that both the media and netizens have used terms and topics such as gender violence to generate more views, more readings and, of course, discord .

What Happened Between Heard and Depp?

The actors' relationship began in 2012 and they married in 2015. However, the marriage was short and ended in May 2016, at which time Heard filed for divorce and accused Depp of physically abusing her. Because of this, a 90-meter restraining order was granted to him. However, the former couple signed a millionaire agreement so that the divorce process was friendly. For this reason, Heard dropped the charges and the restraining order.

The divorce became official in 2017, but in December 2018, and due to the rise of the Me Too movement, Heard published an opinion column in the Washington Post in which she referred to herself as "a public figure representing domestic abuse " and denounced that the institutions covered up violent men from the audiovisual media. Here it is very important to highlight that Heard did not mention Depp in the opinion column, but he did explain the consequences that came to his career by having brought to light that he was a victim of abuse, during his divorce. The Sun, an English newspaper, published an article in which Johnny Depp was referred to as a "wife beater", for which the actor sued the newspaper for defamation. However, it was a lawsuit that lost because the judge considered that the adjective used by the newspaper was not entirely a lie since the accusations made by Heard assumed that it was.

In 2019, Disney fired Depp from the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise, and later Warner fired the actor from the "Fantastic Beasts" franchise as well. In March 2020, Depp sued his ex-wife for defamation, for a total of 50 million dollars, and claimed that he was the victim of the relationship , accusing the actress for the first time of having perpetrated violence in the relationship. Heard responded with a defamation lawsuit in September of the same year, but this time for $100 million.

And so we come to today. The trial is currently underway and is expected to last another 4 weeks.

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What Does the Trial Show?

It is very important to note that this trial is being televised, and has even been compared to that of OJ Simpson. Likewise, the trial is for defamation, with mistreatment and domestic abuse as situations adjacent to the first, but it is these issues of violence that have given the most to talk about. This is especially due to the finger of Johnny Depp because since the actor filed the lawsuit, he announced that Heard allegedly cut his finger in a fight by throwing a bottle at him. This gave a dent to talk about gender violence in social networks, but violence towards a man. Since then, the actor began to be defended tooth and nail by his followers throughout the world. Heard then became the victimizer, and that is the role she has played during the year and a half that she has waited for the trial.

On April 11, at the beginning of the trial, Heard's lawyer, J. Benjamin Rottenborn, accused Depp of having sexually abused the actress. Depp's lawyers denied this accusation, assuring that it was a desperate lie on the part of the ex-wife. From this, the central theme that has been seen throughout the first two weeks of the trial is that of the violence experienced by the couple.

The therapist who treated the couple during their relationship, Laurel Avis Anderson, also participated among the witnesses. The therapist stated that the relationship was immersed in "mutual abuse" since she saw signs of physical abuse in Heard and learned that Depp was also a victim of blows by her. Likewise, Heard's lawyers have presented as evidence text messages from Depp, both to Heard and to his family and close friends, in which he speaks of beating her, murdering her, and even desecrating her body. In turn, Depp's lawyers have brought audio in which Heard admitted to beating her ex-husband.

Broadly speaking, this whole situation seems to be a soap opera , not only because of the absurdity that both are denouncing each other for defamation, but also because of the particular cynical attitude on the part of Depp and the apparent instrumentalization of the discourse of gender violence by Heard and Depp fans. Is this case really about gender violence, or is it about a former celebrity couple who finds herself in the eye of the hurricane at the height of feminism and affective responsibility? The therapist already said it in her testimony, both were mutually violent.

To this we must add the fact that the same patterns that are supposedly being denounced are replicated on social networks: praising Depp for ridiculing Heard during his testimony, denouncing that Heard is an abuser and merely seeing Depp as a victim, when It is clear that both are both victims and victimizers. Meanwhile, while the press and social networks feed on the scandal of celebrities, the true victims of gender violence are seeking to be made visible by those same spaces that feed on the show.