More at stake than Johnny Depp. Has #Metoo lost momentum?

Activists of the movement have for years forced public opinion to recognise that when accusations of harassment and domestic violence are made, the woman is always right, even if there is no evidence to support it. The verdict in a trial between a well-known actor and his former spouse challenged this principle.

Three major shooting-massacres (one in which 19 children were killed), rising inflation and gasoline prices reaching $6 a gallon in some states? How about confusion over the leak of an expected Supreme Court ruling impeding access to abortion? The war in Ukraine?

No, none of these events have captured the attention of Americans in recent weeks quite like actor Johnny Depp’s private defamation lawsuit against his ex-wife, also an actress, Amber Heard. For six weeks detailed testimony in a courtroom in a suburb of the capital Washington, D.C. about the actors’ tumultuous marriage has decisively dominated America’s public news space.

Reputational damage

Yes, yes, yes – seven jurors answered the question “did Mr Depp prove” three times that Amber Heard defamed him by writing in a newspaper that she was a victim of domestic violence. In addition, they found that the actress acted “with actual malice”, for which she must pay her former spouse damages totaling $15 million (an amount ultimately reduced by the judge to $10,350,000 based on Virginia’s statutory limit for punitive damage awards).

“False, very serious and criminal allegations were levied at me via the media, which triggered an endless barrage of hateful content, although no charges were ever brought against me. It had already traveled the world twice within a nanosecond and it had a seismic impact on my life and my career. And six years later, the jury gave me my life back” – wrote Johnny Depp in an official statement, absent from the courtroom, as he tried for six years to clear himself of allegations that he beat his then-wife.

“The disappointment I feel today is beyond words. I’m heartbroken that the mountain of evidence still was not enough to stand up to the disproportionate power, influence, and sway of my ex-husband” – Amber Heard wrote in a statement.

It took three days of deliberations for jury to reach a unanimous verdict, on Wednesday, in a case that involved not only the private lives of a celebrity couple, but also allegations of physical and sexual violence against women that have been emerging for some time – often without providing any evidence. It is a blow to the reputation of the #MeToo movement, of which Amber Heard has been one of the most prominent representatives.

Hairstyles scrutinised

The case has already been christened “the O.J. Simpson trial of the social media age”, and as Judge Penney Azcarate, who presided over the case, tartly observed, “the problem is the courtroom in this particular case appears to be the world”.

The numbers don’t lie. According to a study by NewsWhip, the number of mentions and reactions on social media and searches for information about the Depp vs Heard trial definitely dominated the media space already in the first half of May. In second place was Elon Musk in connection with his takeover of Twitter (incidentally also Amber Heard’s former lover). Interest in the trial was four times greater than information about the US President Joe Biden or abortion; five times greater than the war in Ukraine or inflation, which is becoming the number one socio-political issue for Americans. And all this even before the testimony of both: the plaintiff and the defendant.

Tabloids and celebrity gossip magazines have been livining and breathing the trial of the two actors for months. But the real avalanche of information, almost an uninterrupted stream, poured from the Internet, because in addition to live coverage from the courtroom, a whole industry was created to explain the significance of the testimonies and facts of this celebrity story. It is not only Tik-Tok from which the youngest children draw their knowledge of the world. Numerous YouTube channels – also available on mobile devices – have dethroned TV stations in their coverage of the case.
Amber Heard and Johnny Depp at a Virginia courthouse trial in spring 2022. Photo EVELYN HOCKSTEIN / Reuters / Forum
“Law & Crime” – a trial live-streaming service created by famed legal commentator Dan Abrams – has seen a 15-fold increase in viewers since the trial began on April 12, mostly on its own YouTube channel. On the internet, there was a fierce battle, even an all-out war on memes malice, bluster and, more rarely, arguments, with millions of views, between Depp supporters (using the popular hashtag #justiceforjohnnydepp) and Heard lovers (#justiceforamberheard).

As an indication of the scale of interest, even the renowned Wall Street Journal devoted its pages to analysing... Amber Heard’s hairstyles during the trial and their impact on the perception of her by the jury and the public (the verdict: old-fashioned buns and braided updos are supposed to influence them, suggesting her innocence).


It all started with a publicist article posted in the Washington Post by Amber Heard in December 2018, which made her one of the leading faces of the then burgeoning informal #MeToo movement. “Two years ago, I became a public figure representing victims of domestic violence. I felt the pressure of our culture on women who are not afraid to speak out about it. I was told by friends and counsellors that I would not work as an actress again, that I would be blacklisted. In the film I was in, my role was changed. I shot for a two-year advertising campaign for a reputable cosmetics brand, but the company declined to work with me. They considered whether I could keep the role of Mera in “Justice League” and “Aquaman”. I had the rare opportunity to see first-hand how institutions protect men who have been accused of violence.”

We should add in passing that Heard took part in both productions.

In writing her piece for the Washington Post – in collaboration with professional agitators from the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), an organisation dedicated, among other things, to defending wronged women – Heard violated the provisions of a divorce settlement from early 2017 that ended the marriage she entered into in January 2015. In the settlement, she agreed not to comment on her marriage for an appropriate financial compensation – $7 million .

In this situation, Depp filed a defamation lawsuit demanding $50 million in damages. Heard retaliated with a counter-suit for $100 million. The jury trial began on 12 April 2022 in Fairfax County, Virginia, because the editorial offices and servers of the Washington Post are based there.

It is worth adding that this is Johnny Depp’s second attempt to clear the allegations of violence against his ex-wife. The first one ended in failure when a British court in 2020 rejected in its entirety a defamation suit against a British tabloid, The Sun, which – based on materials provided by Heard – called Depp a “wife-beater”. The actor then failed to convince the jury that not only did he not beat his wife, but that he himself was exposed to violence on her part. At that time, the argument for rejecting the actor’s lawsuit was freedom of speech and press. Now Johnny Depp, in order to clear his name, went to court in the USA, this time suing not a newspaper, but his ex-wife directly.

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Cell phones mess

The seven jurors decided the verdict on the basis of the evidence presented to them and the testimony of witnesses in the courtroom, which was scheduled to last – and it did – six weeks. It was the story of two wounded people (both having experienced abuse as children) living in a celebrity bubble: full of glamour on the outside, private planes and flats, and wealth – and arguments, brawls, alcohol and drugs, when viewed from the inside. Mobile phone videos and text messages included in evidence illustrated the story.

Only a few years ago, the “full of love passion” tenderness (“I felt like a million dollars”); now, in the courtroom, a total war: Johnny Depp, in accordance with his promise to himself, never looks straight into the eyes of his ex-wife, referring to her during testimony only as “Ms Heard”.

Amber’s witnesses: our client lost $40-50 million in unfulfilled roles and advertising contracts.

Nonsense – Depp’s witnesses reply – any such opinion “isn’t worth the paper it’s written on”.

Amber: my husband attacked and sexually assaulted me using a bottle (“He shouted: I’m going to f... kill you, I was scared, I just married him”).

Depp’s witnesses: it was Amber who damaged his finger with a bottle, slicing off a large chunk of the fingertip so that “he couldn’t move it” (fortunately for the actor, skin taken from another part of his body was later sewn on).

Amber: Johnny has had problems before, reportedly pushing model Kate Moss, his then fiancée (she was with Depp from 1994-98) down the stairs.

Moss: testified virtually in court: “He never pushed me, kicked me or threw me down any stairs”.

It was a total washing of their dirty linen in public.

– It’s crazy... It’s crazy to hear that I’ve been accused of sexual violence... it’s horrible, it’s ridiculous, it’s humiliating, it’s ludicrous, it’s painful, savage, unimaginably brutal, cruel and false. All false. I have never in my life committed sexual assault, physical violence – replied Johnny Depp, 58, when asked by his lawyer how he felt about hearing his now 36-year-old ex-wife’s testimony.

Give Amber Heard a rest

The celebrity world was divided during the trial and after the verdict. Actresses Penelope Cruz, Winona Ryder (who, like the aforementioned Moss, was Depp’s partner in the past), and singer Paul McCartney more or less strongly supported the actor. Meanwhile, Mia Farrow (who also sued her former partner Woody Allen in the past, accusing him of molesting their adopted daughter) asked on social media why “so many women are picking on Amber Heard?” And radio presenter Howard Stern claimed Johnny Depp filed the lawsuit because he thought he would charm America in the courtroom.

I did not follow this case for a long time. However, when it did not disappear from the public space day after day, I began to watch the proceedings. To understand America’s fascination, I spoke not to celebrities, but to three ordinary women who watched the story unfold on a daily basis.

For Miranda – single, in her early fifties, she followed the trial on live broadcasts – who has been watching Depp since the TV production of “21 Jump Street” (where he played an undercover police officer from 1987-91), he was always the “good, bad boy”. – He was always this laid-back rockman, a cigarette-smoking boy on a motorbike, who my mother would definitely not have accepted as a boyfriend – says Miranda.
Amber Heard and Johnny Depp supporters demonstrating in a Virginia court. Photo Cliff Owen / Consolidated News - Pictures / Getty Images
Of course, my interviewee admits, he had addiction problems, but maybe that’s why “no one else could play the character of Jack Sparrow so convincingly”, the captain of the ship from the legendary Disney production “Pirates of the Caribbean”. – Amber attacked him for his character. Everyone who has known him for a long time knows that he is a helpful, kind-hearted man who does not care about fame. The accusations have ruined his reputation. Legally, this was the last chance for people to hear his arguments – the woman argues.

Who’s the victim

For sixteen-year-old Mary – she gets her news of the trial from Tik-Tok and short YouTubing reports – Depp is one of the many actors of the older generation, no idol. But the case was important enough to her that she followed it in between preparing for exams and tests in high school. – I don’t believe Amber, she doesn’t convince me. She looks like an actress playing a pre-prepared role: this excessive amount of detail in the descriptions of what her husband allegedly did, these exaggerated emotions... – she says. According to Mary, the trial did not go Heard’s way, showing that she was not just an “innocent victim”. – The whole case convinces me that there is no automatic guilt because of gender here: a man can experience violence too – she adds.

Joanna, an immigrant to the USA, 50 years old, mother and wife: – The whole thing made me stop automatically believe all women accusing men of violence, as I used to – she says. She says that her watching Heard and Depp’s testimonies (on YouTube, mainly on the aforementioned “Crime & Law” channel) has only provided arguments for the actor. – They both use their acting craft, but in my opinion Amber exaggerates too much. I don’t believe her. Before the trial, I knew something about their problems there. It’s a sad story of two broken, wounded people, but I think Depp is the victim here – she says.


I think there’s a reason all three of my interviewees are so unanimous on one thing: the trial has only reinforced their belief that Depp is right. They believe him that despite his own problems with alcohol or drug abuse, he never hit, much less sexually assaulted his ex-wife. – I’m not saying Amber is lying. She is simply telling a story that she believes in her head to be true and that suits her – Miranda suggests.

Even before the verdict, all believed that the actor had already won in the eyes of a large part of the public, as indirectly evidenced by the overwhelming number of supportive comments on the internet. None of us expected such a total victory for Depp in the eyes of the jury. – Justice was served – Joanna told me after the verdict.

– Jeremi Zaborowski from Chicago

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

– Translated by jz
Main photo: Johnny Depp and Amber Heard arrive at the Hollywood premiere of "72 Hours" in February 2014. Photo Jason Merritt / Getty Images
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