“The bitch is dead,” “Burn bitch, burn!” and “Glad that whore can finally wipe that smug look off her face” were a few of the comments I woke up to this morning after news broke that Johnny Depp had won his highly publicised defamation case against Amber Heard.
For six weeks, social media has been awash with clips, memes, soundbites and headlines from the courtroom, as the case metastasized into a global spectacle. “I can’t believe this is free to watch. Greatest thing ever televised,” wrote one spectator on an Instagram live video. It was a trial by media, with a clear agenda: #JusticeforJohnny.
The witch hunt for Heard began almost instantaneously. After the actress made her inital statements in court, spectators flooded to platforms like Tiktok to dissect, scrutinise and create dramatised skits to a soundbite of Heard’s testimonies, tearing apart the validity of her claims.
While Heard’s evidence was put under a microscope for public consumption, alarming and misogynistic text messages from Depp fantasing about brutally murdering his then-wife were swept aside and quickly forgotten. “I will fuck her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she’s dead,” Depp wrote.
“Hopefully that cunt’s rotting corpse is decomposing in the fucking trunk of a honda civic.” There were no memes made from these messages.
The blatant misogyny surrounding this trial was impossible to ignore. Online Heard was branded a “monster,” a “Karen,” and “aggressive.”
During the trial, I was frequently pressed as to whether I was ‘team Amber’ or ‘team Johnny.’ ‘I stand on the side of victims,’ I would reply. The case is complex and nuanced, centring on serious claims of domestic abuse and violence, not one that can be branded on a T-shirt. I watched other friends laugh at Depp’s reference to Heard as a ‘slippery whore that I donated my jizz to for a while.”
Depp has since explained that he often uses ‘dark humour’ in conversation. Hateful language breeds hate, and when a celebrity or a person with influence brushes off misogynist language as ‘humour’ it sets the precedent that this language and treatment of women is ok.
“I am harassed, humiliated, threatened every single day, even just walking into this courtroom,” said Heard. “Having the worst parts of my life used to humiliate me. People want to kill me. They tell me so every day. People want to put my baby in the microwave. They tell me that.”
Domestic violence is defined by an imbalance of power. To feel the seismic weight of the power imbalance in the courtroom, you only need to look as far as Depp’s influence. For many, Depp holds a feeling of nostalgia, he’s the beloved Disney pirate, a childhood hero that is void of wrong-doing.
“Depp is not the kind of guy who pushes you down the stairs. He is the kind that carries you up,” said one fan on Tiktok. “Johnny deserves the world and more. This man was my childhood, I’m so glad he won.” Or more concerning positioning Depp as one of the fictional characters who has triumphantly brought down the wretched villain, “This is the day you’ll always remember as the day you almost caught Captain Jack Sparrow.”
In response to the court’s verdict, Depp penned a letter to his fans: “I hope that my quest to have the truth be told will have helped others, men or women, who have found themselves in my situation.”
A common consensus of today’s court ruling was that there were no winners. Perhaps, but there was a loss. For victims of domestic violence, this case was a painful blow, a punch to the gut, a regression for women.
It’s a case that reminds us of the gendered violence that still exists. A case that signals to victims that silence is safer than speaking out. A case that should never have let cameras into the courtroom.
If you or someone you know needs help contact the Australian Helpline 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732).