The verdict for the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard defamation trial is as ridiculous as the public jokes made at Heard’s expense, which have proven to be an unfortunate and grotesque display of social insensitivity. Essentially the jury ruled that Heard lied about her abuse allegations but Depp’s camp also lied about her lying. Sound confusing and asinine? That’s because it is.
The mismanagement of this trial began the moment it was filed in Virginia. Heard’s op-ed was published by the Washington Post and Depp’s camp claimed that since the Washington Post resides within Virginia, that it would be fitting to have the case within the Virginia court system. Yet, the Washington Post was not on trial, Amber Heard was. Both Heard and Depp reside in California. To understand the strategic move to file in a state so far from the homes of the Hollywood stars, one must understand anti-SLAPP laws.
SLAPP stands for strategic laws against public participation. The reporters committee for freedom of the press states on their website, “Anti-SLAPP laws are intended to prevent people from using courts, and potential threats of a lawsuit, to intimidate people who are exercising their First Amendment rights.” Specifically in Virginia, the anti-SLAPP law is flawed and weak, despite its amendments. There are no protections in place to aid a defendant who is being sued for defamation within the initial aspects of a trial. Therefore Heard couldn’t protect herself from going to court in Virginia no matter how hard she tried and Depp relied on the Virginia court system’s flaws to gain headway.
Depp has been likened as one of the greatest actors of our era. He seemingly played the character we all have watched over the decades, cool and misunderstood. No one appears to want to give up their Jack Sparrow or their Edward Scissorhands. A common theme in American culture is to revere the actor as if they’re the characters they play, instead of recognizing that they are playing a role and that this is their job. They are not the hero, they only play one.
The judge presiding over the case allowed it to play out like a Telenovela, with Depp fans crowding the court space as he and his lawyers snickered during testimonies while he barely made eye contact with any witnesses. Maybe Judge Penney Azcarate didn’t have the foresight or experience in such high profile lawsuits when she ruled in favor of allowing film crews to be present within the courtroom. Her reasoning was to prevent a slew of reporters outside of the courtroom from wreaking havoc, which is understandable considering all of the requests from media outlets she was receiving.
Yet what she didn’t seem to consider was that the case involved intense intimate details of sexual violence and abuse and the careless decision to publicly display it was an insult to any victim, especially Heard. Her decision thus made the entire case a living nightmare, with Depp fans replacing reporters while they harassed Heard as she exited each day.
The most preposterous thing about this case was what the whole case was about to begin with, her op-ed. The article is so ambiguous that Depp had to attempt to gain sympathy, appealing to the public’s emotions, not the facts that were being presented. Which worked and he beguiled his audience and the witless jury to think that this article, in which he is never named, actually defamed him. It sounds like an absolute joke and perhaps wouldn’t even be tried in states with stricter anti-SLAPP laws.
The key phrases that Depp claimed defamed him were entirely illogical; to assert that he was defamed by something that never outwardly states his name is a pronounced example of narcissism. What’s even more nonsensical is that one of the claims he was suing over was the headline of the op-ed itself, which Heard didn’t even write. Yes, you read that right: she did not write the headline in which she was on trial for.
Danny Cevallos, a legal analyst for MSNBC, explains, “As someone who writes articles for news organizations, like the one you’re reading right now, I can tell you that I never write the headline. Never. I don’t even suggest one. I don’t know if that’s some trade secret I’m not supposed to tell. I guess we’ll know if my editor has left these sentences in this article you’re reading right now.” That said, why wasn’t this claim thrown out?
Heard had a major disadvantage with the jury, which should’ve been a red flag for anyone with half a brain. The jury was not sequestered, there was no isolation from social media or anything else that would influence their decision. There was no way for them to be shielded from the immense amount of media surrounding the case.
“But reality is social media is everywhere, it was all over TVs, the radio, the internet, everywhere. It was really hard to block that out. And since it was so vitriolic to Amber I think it made it a lot more difficult,” Heard’s lawyer Elaine Carlson Bredhoft explains.
Not to mention The Daily Wire, a conservative right wing news publication which was founded by Ben Shapiro, spent thousands of dollars promoting anti-Heard propaganda on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. The articles and video clips that fueled the online debate in Depp’s favor, cycled through everyone’s news feed like a pesky fly, buzzing about with no question in front of our eyes and ears. Only Heard was shown in an unfavorable light, which widened the gap between opposing viewpoints. Seemingly no one was immune, conservatives and liberals alike. One by one everyone fell for persuasive headlines and video clips intended for short attention spans.
With so many mind boggling aspects, the absolute hardest to swallow was the foul treatment Heard endured throughout. The masses collectively gathered around and treated her pain as a joke, when there is nothing funny about the details that she presented. Heard said it best herself on the stand, “Perhaps it’s easy to forget, but I am a human being.”
The absurdity of insensitive comments and opinions at Heard’s expense was repugnant, yet so many watched and participated in a modern day witch trial as so many publications have pointed out. Any of the feminists who stood so firmly behind #metoo, famous or not, abandoned the notion of believing victims and were either radio silent or openly against Heard. Feminists don’t leave their sisters behind, whether they like them or not. They understand the system they’re working under and that it does not tip in their favor, as Depp has so smugly shown to those of us who are still paying attention.
Although overlooked, Heard did have a partial victory in the sense that the jury did find her claim stating that Depp’s lawyer Adam Waldman defamed her by saying her accusations were a hoax. The first rule in a libel case for it to be considered defamatory is the plaintiff must prove that the statements were lies. It seems as though the jury in this case has little to no clue on how this all works, which is probably why Virginia’s libel suits are more in favor of the plaintiffs rather than those exercising their First Amendment rights. If they believed that Heard was lying about her experiences as a domestic abuse survivor, they would have never come to the conclusion that Depp’s lawyer Waldman defamed her. Therefore they do believe that she was abused, yet they seemingly are too afraid to go against the grain and side with a man who has power and social influence.
To put it bluntly Johnny Depp has a substantial amount of power and sway, he’s graced the silver screen on almost every millennial’s favorite movie. This man owns an island for Christ’s sake. To say that he has less power and was manipulated by a woman 22 years younger than him is absurd and shows a lack of societal understanding regarding domestic violence. Heard’s explicit details of abuse and evidence to prove her experiences show a woman who stood up for herself and who was fed up with an admitted drug addicted alcoholic and who was still so young.
The public so quickly forgave Depp and his frightening texts stating, “Let’s drown her before we burn her!!! I will fuck her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she’s dead.” This is what we consider role model material? He has countless texts in which he admits to serious substance abuse and where he is also consistently apologetic to Heard for having to endure through it. What we need to ask ourselves is, do we really want to celebrate and follow the footsteps of a man who is so indisputably flawed?
Heard’s attorney assured that she will appeal the verdict. Besides the obvious takeaway, that the case should’ve never been tried in Virginia to begin with, there is still the conviction in many of us that Heard deserved better, from Depp, from judge Azcarate, from the jury and from us all.
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