Amber Heard Has Already Lost in the Court of Public Opinion. Why?

Her trial against Johnny Depp has yet to reach a verdict, but much of America has decided she's the monster.

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Amber Heard Has Already Lost in the Court of Public Opinion. Why?
Photo: (AP)

As the Amber Heard v. Johnny Depp defamation trial continues to be the subject of collective scrutiny, with new details of alleged domestic and sexual violence litigated each week, it’s obvious who’s already won in the court of public opinion. Spoiler alert: It isn’t Heard.

Since it began on April 11, the multimillion dollar battle royale has amassed opinions from every corner of the internet. Daily newsfeeds are dominated by unflattering images of Heard crying on the stand, her face crinkled and contorted as if to underscore the assumption of many that she’s an unhinged accuser. So pervasive are the hot takes that they’ve sparked an investigation of biased bots and entire TikTok trends started by feral fandoms and celebrities—most of whom don’t possess any personal ties to either party—are weighing in without evidence.

The fanfare has also transcended screens: A pro-Depp billboard was erected in North Carolina, and so many of the actor’s supporters have shown up to the Fairfax, Virginia courthouse that scalpers are now selling courtroom access on the black market. Even an Australian bakery is currently selling donuts in the shape of a hand with a missing finger along with a miniature vodka bottle—an allusion to one of the more abhorrent arguments detailed in the trial.

The legal proceedings of two famous people are likely always bound to result in a media circus, but very few could’ve predicted the ways this one would turn out. It’s become a testament not only to what a cruel place the internet can be, but how a dangerous majority of the public are a little too willing to side with a man accused of domestic violence, sexual assault and scores of other disturbing allegations.

Of course, it can’t be overstated that this case is anything but clear-cut. Heard has admitted to hitting Depp, and recorded audio reveals a history of her denigrating him. In testimony from Depp’s sister and former personal manager, the court learned family members had concerns about Heard even prior to their union, and a marriage counselor sought by the couple said there was “mutual abuse” in the relationship: “It was a point of pride to her, if she felt disrespected, to initiate a fight,” she said of Heard. Additionally, the actress and her team worked with the American Civil Liberties Union to pen the Washington Post op-ed at center of the trial, timing it to the release of an upcoming film she starred in. She has not paid the full amount she pledged to the ACLU or to the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital and at one time, maintained very questionable ties to reviled billionaire, Elon Musk and alleged sexual predator, James Franco.

Depp, on the other hand, has been accused of, on at least two occasions, sexually assaulting Heard—once with a liquor bottle, and another wherein he allegedly forcibly digitally penetrated his then-wife while looking for drugs. In days of testimony, Heard has detailed fights that allegedly culminated in Depp slapping her across face after she laughed at his tattoo (“It changed my life,” she said of the 2013 incident), kicking her in the back on a private flight over a reputed friendship with James Franco (“I felt so embarrassed that he could kick me to the ground in front of people, and more embarrassing, I didn’t know what to do about it”), and even breaking her nose after the Met Gala for flirting with a woman in front of him (“We were struggling, he’s bigger than me. He hit me, I remember my nose being swollen, red. I made a remark to my friend of how bad.”). Depp allegedly threatened to kill Heard after she informed his two children of his issues with addiction while the pair was vacationing in the Bahamas. “He slams me up by my neck and holds me there for a second and tells me that he could fucking kill me and that I was an embarrassment,” she told the court.

While many on the internet believe that Heard is lying about such incidents and even faking her tears, the actor’s text messages to friends about Heard (“Let’s drown her before we burn her!!!’’) and (“I will fuck her burnt corpse afterward to make sure she is dead.”) among others, should cast a dark enough shadow of doubt on that theory.

As Michelle Goldberg surmised in a recent New York Times op-ed:

If she’s telling the truth, one has to marvel at how thoroughly Depp and his team have sullied her name. When Depp testified, the hashtags #AmberTurd and #MePoo shot across the internet. The image of Heard, a woman whose brand is bombshell blond glamour, is now linked, perhaps permanently, to excrement. If she’s not a psychopath, she’s the casualty of a truly sadistic reputational hit job.

It’s true that those vilifying Heard haven’t quite considered whether she is, in fact, telling the truth, nor what younger generations and survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault in their own lives are left to internalize about their full-throated support of Depp. When Heard becomes emotional, she’s deemed the world’s worst actress. After describing one of the alleged sexual assaults, she’s accused of having stolen from Rihanna’s statements about Chris Brown’s abuse. A group hired by Heard’s team that tracks online disinformation and harassment estimated at least 340 “inauthentic” Twitter accounts had been created to defame the actress, while an unsettling number of real users across social media are gleefully doing it of their accord and for free.

Fellow celebrities have also waded into the muddied discourse, and an overwhelming majority seem to be pro-Depp: Paul McCartney appeared to show support for the actor during a recent concert; Howard Stern just asked Harry Styles about the trial in an interview; Ireland Baldwin speculated that Heard was “manipulative and cold”; Lance Bass imitated Heard’s testimony via one of the aforementioned tacky TikTok trends; Gemma Chan liked a pro-Depp comment on Instagram; and Donald Trump just volunteered his own reflections despite the fact that not a one of us asked for them.

A more unlikely show of support for Depp has come from well-meaning liberals and leftists eager to emphasize the fact that men are also victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault. Indeed, when it concerns both cases—especially those made public—reactions seem only to vacillate somewhere between: “But what about men?” or “Not all men!” Both are unequivocally valid, but it’s worth noting that such arguments not only detract from the woman currently purporting to be a victim in this case but also neglect any real nuance. Depp is a white, cishet public figure of immense wealth, while statistically, most reported male victims are non-white, queer or working class—if not a combination of the three. He’s also 22 years older than Heard, which surely had a significant effect on their power dynamics when they met 13 years ago.

Now, none of this is to say it isn’t possible that Depp suffered abuse or that his testimony isn’t worthy of trust. It’s just if one professes to operate under the guise of “believing survivors,” yet feels more inclined to believe or advocate for Depp’s version of events over Heard’s, perhaps they should examine their own biases. The trial’s events are undoubtedly setting a harmful public precedent: Depp’s longtime friend Marilyn Manson just filed a defamation suit against former partner, Evan Rachel Wood, after her HBO documentary, Phoenix Rising, detailed disturbing abuse and assault allegations against the singer. It wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that Manson—among other alleged perpetrators (famous or not) —might feel a lot more confident about their own legal proceedings as a result of how this one has gone.

Earlier this week, Heard was cross-examined by Camille Vasquez, one of Depp’s attorneys, who asked at one particularly tense moment: “Who was the real monster in this relationship, Ms. Heard?”

While I’m quite comfortable not determining a definitive answer to that question, too many have already made up their minds. It’s time we have tough conversations as to why.

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