Johnny Depp and Amber Heard are two very famous people whose very toxic relationship has been dominating the celebrity news cycle for the last week as the couple faces off in a London courtroom. The case is based on a libel claim but goes so much deeper into issues of domestic abuse, addiction, and fame. And what messy divorce would be complete without some kind of money problem?
Johnny Depp and Amber Heard met on the set of The Rum Diary in 2009. The pair began dating after he split with his former partner Vanessa Paradis in 2012. The couple married in 2015. Their wedded bliss was short-lived, however, and Heard filed for divorce from Depp in May 2016. At the time of their separation, a judge granted Heard a temporary restraining order against Depp. She alleged that he was physically and verbally abusive throughout their relationship. The divorce was finalized in 2017, the restraining order was dismissed, and Depp paid Heard a $7 million dollar settlement. She donated the settlement to charity.
The drama, however, doesn’t end there. In December 2018, Heard penned an op-ed for the Washington Post about her experience as a victim of abuse in the public eye. The article does not mention Depp or any specific incidents by name. Depp sued Heard for $50 million. Heard moved to dismiss the case, but in March 2020 a judge ruled against the dismissal. That case is still ongoing.
That’s a lot to unpack, but it all brings us to what’s happening today. This trial is separate from the ongoing lawsuit between former husband and wife. The current trial is taking place in London because Depp is suing News Group Newspapers — who own British tabloid The Sun — for libel over an article that dubbed Depp a “wife-beater”. The court is now tasked with determining whether Depp is indeed a wife-beater or not.
The trial has revealed all sorts of salacious details from the couple’s short-lived marriage in a desperate effort to sort out who was indeed the abusive party, and therefore whether The Sun‘s claims were libelous or not. The revelations are truly a gossip magazine’s dream come true. In addition to all of the accusations of physical and emotional abuse, there is a photograph of Depp asleep covered in melted ice cream, and talk of Depp somehow losing $650 million. There has also been a great deal of back and forth on a poo in the bed incident. Yes, seriously. Thus far, we are no closer to learning the truth about this terrible marriage. But some things have become apparent over the course of this very messy trial.
First and foremost, this case is about domestic violence. Both parties have alleged abuse within the marriage on the part of the other. With any luck, the trial will reveal the truth. The victim will find justice and the abuser will face consequences. However, regardless of who ends up being the real bad guy, this case highlights the prevalence of domestic violence in our society. If it’s happening to beautiful, wealthy, and famous people, it’s important to think of all those without massive social media followings and hoards of fans who are experiencing similar hardships on a smaller stage. If it is this hard for a celebrity to find justice against their abuser, it’s truly horrifying to think of how difficult this is for the average person.
We are reluctant to believe women when they claim abuse. We are equally reluctant to believe a gorgeous tiny blonde woman like Amber Heard could possibly inflict the kind of damage that Depp accuses her of inflicting. Both of these viewpoints come from our far too rigid and deeply outdated ideas about gender roles. Women lie to try to take down powerful men, but men are too tough to possibly be damaged by a girl like Amber Heard. The result is this no-win train wreck. It doesn’t matter who is right and who is wrong. This trial is evidence that our society has deeply entrenched and very twisted views on domestic violence, abuse, and public accusations.
It is abundantly clear through how this case handles Depp’s well-documented addiction issues, and the subsequent coverage in the tabloids, that our culture still has no idea how to properly handle addiction. Addiction is a disease, and if Depp is innocent, he’s being shamed extremely publicly for an addiction he cannot control. If he is indeed the abuser, his addiction issues almost certainly played a role in his behavior. That is not to say that addiction is an excuse for abuse.
If Depp indeed abused his wife, he should be held fully accountable for that behavior. However, if we had better ways of dealing with addiction, if we had more progressive forms of treatment and more accepting attitudes, Depp’s addiction may never have reached this crisis point.
Both Depp and Heard have faced serious career ramifications from this whole mess. Depp has a starring role in J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them series, and his inclusion has caused controversy almost from the very beginning. Depp’s role in the future of The Pirates of the Caribbean series is also up in the air. His participation in the series is presumably pending how the trial shakes out.
In her op-ed, Heard claims she’s also lost out on roles and lost brand deals because of her involvement in this whole situation. Arguably, both Heard and Depp’s reputations are suffering serious damage, perhaps rightly so, because of whatever went terribly horribly wrong in their relationship.
This kind of situation is where cancel culture goes too far. None of us know for certain what happened in their home, although a picture is beginning to form. If Heard was indeed abused, she has faced unnecessary and deeply damaging criticism that she doesn’t deserve. If Depp is innocent, the same is true for him. Fans and the media jumped to judgment, and either way, someone is absolutely suffering for it.