By Jenn Ricky Smith.
“Why did she have to happen? Just when I was doing so good without her?”
– Johnny Depp as Paul Kemp speaking to the stunningly beautiful Chenault (Amber Heard) as she swims away just after they meet in the 2010 movie The Rum Diary.
If you tuned in late to the Johnny Depp v Amber Heard trial, you would never know that the trial was essentially a defamation case relating to an article published in the Washington Post in December of 2018. By the half way point of the trial between the ill-fated former couple whom met on the set of The Rum Diary in 2009 (even though both were still attached at the time), mention of the article had been scant at best and Heard herself had yet to be heard, and yet much of the internet had already declared Heard guilty and Depp innocent of a crime that he had actually not even been charged with.
Defenders of the popular Hollywood movie star, Johnny Depp, are so numerous (almost 2 Billion) and rabid and frequently nasty in their defense of the actor, that I have found most publishers unwilling to publish anything on the case that is not either in favor of Depp or absent of opinion completely. Even the usually vocal feminist organizations have largely abandoned Amber Heard, lest they be crushed by the overwhelming power of Depp’s popularity. But in their lust to defend Depp from an allegedly “vicious attack” from a “crazy woman,” people seem to have forgotten or failed to recognize that it was actually Amber Heard who was accused of an offense, not Depp. It would seem that Heard’s fate, at least in the court of public opinion, was determined long before she had spoken even a single word, long before she told stories of abuse, such as Depp’s alleged vicious body cavity search of Heard in an apparently vulgar and desperate attempt to locate his drugs. But the broader implications of this case for women in general should be of even more concern to people.
In order to understand this case properly you must begin by understanding that at no point after the couple’s high profile 2016 divorce did Amber Heard take Johnny Depp to court or charge him with an offence. The only time Heard went to court in relation to abuse charges was during divorce proceedings that took place in 2016 when the couple first broke up, when she filed for a restraining order alleging Depp was both verbally and physically abusive toward her during their stormy four-year relationship. She went on to say, “Johnny has a long-held and widely-acknowledged public and private history of drug and alcohol abuse. He has a short fuse. He is often paranoid and his temper is extremely scary for me as it has proven many times to be physically dangerous and/or life-threatening to me.” Heard claimed the restraining order was necessary during the divorce proceedings because Depp had allegedly hit her in the face with his cell phone, and in court Heard appeared to have a bruise on her right eye. Depp claimed Heard’s application for a restraining order was essentially a negotiating strategy for the divorce. In any case the divorce proceedings went ahead with Heard receiving a $7 million settlement (much of which went to charity) but ultimately declining spousal support. It is important to note that the divorce case ended with the couple releasing a joint statement saying:
Our relationship was intensely passionate and at times volatile, but always bound by love. Neither party has made false accusations for financial gain. There was never any intent of physical or emotional harm.
Other than the comments she made during the divorce, Heard said very little publicly about the two’s relationship. When the divorce was finalized and the restraining order dropped in 2016, speaking on behalf of Amber, Heard’s lawyer Pierce O’Donnell said the actress just wanted to put it all behind her, and “In the words of Gerald Ford, ‘Our long national nightmare is over.'” The subsequent two court cases were both brought about by Johnny Depp, and in both cases it was Depp who dragged Heard into court and compelled her to talk about their relationship in a much more detailed way.
In 2018, Depp sued The Sun newspaper in the United Kingdom, alleging they had defamed him by referring to him in a story as a “wife beater.” Depp lost that case with the judge noting that he felt there was sufficient evidence to validate that Depp had indeed committed at least a dozen physical assaults on Amber Heard. A lot of anger was directed at Heard for testifying that she had been abused, but once again that was only because Depp essentially forced her to speak about it.
In a recording played in court on April 25, 2022, Depp is heard telling Amber, “the abuse, the abuse thing — we’ve got to deal with that …Why did you put that out there?”
An obviously upset, crying Heard responded by saying her reputation was being destroyed by claims she was lying, “you forced me. Your team, forced me to by going on the offense,” confirming Heard simply wanted the case to go away and was tired of being attacked by Depp’s mobs of fans, but Depp simply would not let it go and she could not say she had lied because it would destroy her career, especially when, according to Heard, it was absolutely true that the relationship was highly abusive.
So Heard herself felt things were over after the heated 2016 divorce and just wanted to be left alone, but Johnny Depp has refused to let the issue go and in 2022 Heard has once again found herself dragged into court, allegedly because of some extraordinarily benign comments Heard made in a newspaper op-ed she wrote in 2018 for the Washington Post. The venom and animosity being directed at Heard by Depp’s rabid fans in 2022 is far greater than it was in 2016 or 2018, and they are now trying to totally destroy her career by flooding film studios with demands studios do not employ her.
In many ways Heard cannot win this case and Depp cannot lose, and one must be tempted to conclude at this point, that Depp himself will not be satisfied until he has utterly destroyed what some people have called his “child bride” (because of the massive age difference between the two).
The current 2022 case is supposed to be about “defamation” committed by Heard in the December 2018 Washington Post article, yet 99.5% of the testimony and evidence has focused on everything but that article, including long dubiously relevant stories of Depp’s childhood and his “Cinderella” climb to the status of Hollywood superstar. But the decision that faces the jury is not whether or not Depp is innocent or guilty of beating or otherwise abusing Amber Heard, the question is whether or not Heard defamed Depp in the Washington Post article in which she described herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse” and noting “I had the rare vantage point of seeing, in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse.”
The “Truth” About “Abuse”.
Even if you believe most of what Depp has been saying in his (what I believe to be) obviously highly staged and coached testimony to the court, everything Heard wrote in her article could still be considered absolutely
true, depending on how you define abuse and recognizing that how institutions protect men accused with abuse is a separate issue from whether or not any given man actually is guilty of abuse. The institutions Heard was referring to can be biased to protect men either way and independent of this case or any other case.
As for the question of the word “abuse” and what that means, that is quite subjective, at least in a vernacular sense. As somebody that was abused as a foster child myself I can tell you the abuse that did the most damage to me was not the physical abuse, it was the emotional and psychological abuse. Keep in mind that as a child I suffered physical abuse that involved bloody noses, split lips, bruises, and broken bones, but even taking all of this into account I can still say with confidence that the psychological and emotional abuse was far worse.
To refer to the relentless psychological and emotional torture I was subject to for years as a child as anything other than abuse would be the pinnacle of absurdity and frankly offensive. Legally speaking the word “abuse” has always applied to psychological as well as physical harm, which is why Black’s Law Dictionary describes “abuse” as “To injure a person physically or mentally.”
Extreme psychological and emotional abuse is not uncommon in dysfunctional relationships, and it can be very damaging to adults as well as children. Furthermore, few people that have lived with somebody that has serious alcohol and drug problems — weaknesses that clearly and admittedly seriously plagued Johnny Depp — would describe their relationship with the drug addict as anything other than abusive.
Mutual Abuse and “Reactive Violence.”
Like all abuse, one must keep in mind abuse can be mutual, but the fact that both parties engage in abuse does not mean that one is not more extreme or responsible than the other or that one cancels out the other. I think the evidence presented over the years related to Depp and Heard’s fiery relationship suggests pretty clearly that they were involved in mutual abuse, but was one more responsible than the other? In order to answer this question the idea of “reactive violence” must be considered, as does the idea of power imbalances, as the partner with the greatest amount of power, which can include physical or financial power, tends to be what experts call the “primary abuser.”
Mutually abusive relationships are actually very common. Experts in Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) have noted in most cases there will be a “primary abuser” and a partner that is described as engaging in “reactive violence.” This is most common, and unfortunately most commonly fatal, in same sex relationships between gay men, which actually provide a good gender neutral way of examining the dynamics of a mutually abusive relationship, and researchers have done this. In some cases mutually abusive relationships are indeed equally violent on both sides, but not usually. Typically a “primary abuser” does exist who triggers and drives the cycles of abuse.
“Reactive violence,” or reactive abuse, is when the abusive behavior of one party triggers the mutually abusive behavior of the other (it can also involve “preemptive violence”), leading to repeating cycles of abuse between the two. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), “Reactive violence is often used by victims to reclaim and restore [a sense of] dignity and integrity” and it “may be considered by the victim as a form of self-protection,” although in reality it usually only makes things worse.
In the case of Amber Heard, if we are to believe her testimony, she entered into a relationship with an actor that was an idol of hers as a child, and she had a kind of fairytale romance vision of what their relationship could be or should be. When asked what attracted her to him early in their relationship, Heard said she was amazed by “his talent, his passion, his magnetic force that pulls you into all his brilliance.” Her ideal vision of Johnny unfortunately would soon be plunged into the stormy seas of reality and proverbial pirate’s life in Hollywood, in which she was in a relationship with a man almost twice her age, who felt enormous jealousy when his much younger wife was cast to star in movies alongside studly young men closer to her age, and whom also allegedly had long standing and well-known drug and alcohol problems. Amber being a strong woman who did not want to surrender her fairytale storybook romance with a Hollywood legend, found herself fighting back against Depp’s aggression, fighting back against his jealousy, fighting back against his drug and alcohol addictions. He, like most addicts, did not want to give up his addictions so he wanted her to shut up about it, so the two fought, and occasionally it turned physical. She was not just fighting for her relationship and against Depp’s abuse, she was fighting for Johnny because she loved him and just wanted him to get his act together.
The relationship was so convoluted and duplicitous and Depp had so many “yes men” and enablers swirling around him and willing to lie for him (in some ways it reminds me of what happened with Elvis Presley), that getting at the full truth and knowing exactly who the primary abuser was in the relationship is not as straight forward as it might seem. In terms of the lawsuit, however, who the primary abuser was is almost irrelevant, because frankly I believe there is enough evidence at this point to dismiss the whole case because clearly Heard was indeed involved in an abusive relationship. Thus her benign comments in the Washington Post were both true and justified.
That the nature of the abuse was much more nuanced and difficult to observe than other more dramatic cases involving much more serious physical abuse, does not invalidate what Amber went through. While black eyes are easier to see and understand, the damage and wounds inflicted by months or years of being tortured psychologically by a drug and alcohol addict and other forms of psychological abuse can in the long run be far more damaging even though you cannot see the wounds. Anybody that has been trapped in a relationship plagued by massive drug or alcohol addiction will recognize and confirm immediately the extreme pain and torment that can be associated with that. I, as a foster child that went through multiple homes and was exposed to extreme alcohol addiction and physical abuse, can tell you with deadly certainty that the pain I endured psychologically and the fear and the emotional torment associated with that addiction, was far worse than the physical abuse I experienced, and yet it was all invisible. It was invisible but five decades later I still bare the scars and PTSD from that torment.
But if we want to establish who was the primary abuser and who was reactive with more clarity, you can start with things like who first brought chaos and abuse to the relationship? In this case it is clear it was Johnny Depp and his addictions. Subjecting your spouse to out of control addictions is a form of very serious abuse that will trigger an understandable and justifiable reaction from their partner.
Another way to determine who was the primary abuser, again according to the NCADV, is by looking at who cuts off the pattern of abuse first. The NCADV writes that typically the victim will cut off abuse and seek separation from the abuser first, whereas the primary abuser will continue violence or other forms of abuse/harassment long afterwards:
the [primary] victim’s use of violence ends when the relationship ends or the abuser stops using abuse. The [primary] abuser will [typically] continue to abuse their victim indefinitely and often more intensely as they feel a loss of control over their victim.
In this sense it is hard not to notice that Heard has tried desperately to escape this issue declaring she just wants it to end so she can live her life, whereas six years later Depp continues to drag Heard back into court and back into the headlines repeatedly, even after losing a high profile case previously in the United Kingdom. Depp and his legion of fans now seem hellbent, not so much on winning the case, but on utterly destroying Amber Heard and her career, and shockingly the court is aiding that process by allowing Depp to go on and on about unrelated matter, like an obviously false story of Amber allegedly pooping on Depp’s bed to “get revenge,” which despite its obvious falsehood (this will be dealt with later) and absurdity to thinking people, the court allowing it to be submitted has caused the uniformed public to uncritically use it to totally defame Amber in public. Unfortunately others are also working at the same time manipulating the same data to try to sink the MeToo movement’s gains to the bottom of the ocean with Amber, thus striking a blow at all women who speak out about abuse.
It is important to realize that these patterns and dynamics of abuse can happen not only in cases of physical abuse but in cases of psychological abuse as well, and I think the evidence suggests that both were present in the Depp/Heard relationship. Indeed in one recording made by Depp played to the court, Depp is heard essentially admitting to the fact abuse was at least mutual. In the recording Amber (unaware she is being recorded) is heard mocking the idea that Johnny was a victim of abuse and she challenged him to “Tell the world, Johnny. Tell them, Johnny Depp, I, Johnny Depp, a man, I’m a victim, too, of domestic violence.” Depp responded by saying, “yes I am.” Note, Depp did not say, “I in fact am the only victim of violence, I did nothing,” he responded by affirming he TOO was a victim, implying there was another victim, namely Amber. It is important to note, however, whenever listening to these recordings, that typically one party will be aware they are being recorded and the other is not, thus one is on their best behavior whereas the other is being natural. These recordings tend to tell us more about the one being recorded rather than the one doing the recording.
In another frequently deceptively clipped recording (selective portions are played to make Amber look bad) made by Depp, we hear Depp (who is aware he is being recorded) saying, “If things get physical…we have to separate….whether it is for an hour, or ten hours or a day.”
Heard (unaware she is being recorded) responds, “I agree about the physical violence, but separating for a day and taking a night off from our marriage…” she is then cut off by Depp.
Depp goes on to say, “we need to take whatever time we need…to kind of let things settle so we don’t fucking kill each other or worse…like really kill each other…or break up or whatever. If the fight escalates to the point which its just insulting for both of us or if it gets to that physical fucking shit or violence. That is when we just say look, let’s go to our corners.” Once again we have Depp here suggesting mutual abuse/violence, thereby justifying Amber’s statement in her op-ed where she implied she was in an abusive relationship.
There is much more, such as the text messages on Amber’s phone from Johnny’s assistant Stephen Deuters, who verified not only that Depp had kicked Amber then cried about it when he realized what he had done, but the texts confirm other incidents as well. Deuters denied he had any such exchange with Amber but the texts were independently confirmed as authentic by a computer forensic expert.
There seems little doubt the relationship was abusive. Defenders of Depp seem to go off on tangents thinking that if they can show a single instance of Amber being mean or violent that this somehow means the relationship was not abusive and that Depp’s abuse was therefore justified and him actually the victim. But of course that is nonsense and ignores the reality of “reactive violence.” A woman fighting back against an abusive drug saturated husband, fighting for herself and her relationship because she loved the man and was willing to fight him and fight his abusive behavior to save their relationship should not even be considered abuse. Not all women will respond to psychological abuse (which severe drug addiction and its concurrent behaviors is a form of) or physical abuse by curling up into a ball and let it happen. Strong women particularly will fight back for themselves and their relationship. It is possible to fight your partner because you love them and want to save them from themselves, and that is where “reactive violence” comes in. No violence or abusive behavior is good but when it is a response to abuse or violence by the other it is understandable in the sense that it was triggered by the abusive behavior of the other, and in many cases is done to try to salvage the relationship. It is thus part of a cycle. So if you want to call the Depp/Heard relationship mutually abusive that is reasonable, but that should end the defamation case right there, because mutually abusive is still abusive.
People have to resist the urge to try an entirely separate issue. There is only one question to be answered, did Amber lie by suggesting she was in an abusive relationship with Depp? I personally do not know how anybody could conclude the relationship was not at least mutually abusive, therefore her words were honest. Heard has always admitted to behaving badly at times and even to “hitting” Johnny, but by that she seems to mean slapping at his arms etc but not injuring him, and even when secretly recorded she strongly objects to Depp trying to bait her into saying she punched him, she in fact mocks that suggestion saying “I didn’t punch you … I hit you but you are fine …. you are such a baby.” So yes both were abusive, but who was more abusive or the primary abuser we do not know for sure, and ultimately it is irrelevant in terms of the charges against Heard. I of course have an opinion, much of which is based on evidence still to come, particularly the Australia “finger episode.” I believe the primary abuser in the relationship was the much older, much richer, much more famous and powerful Johnny Depp.
Whereas Depp seems to admit or strongly suggest in the above quotes that it was a mutually abusive relationship, he has since switched to arguing that he committed no abuse at all, and then together with his lawyers they began crafting this narrative of Depp as a gentle harmless man cursed to be a victim of crazy, deceptive, abusive women.
Semantics and the Power of Psychological Abuse.
The extreme destructive power of psychological and emotional abuse was powerfully illustrated in a recording played to the court in 2020, which featured a sobbing and obviously extremely distraught Amber Heard crying to Johnny, “you are KILLING ME! [More crying and sobbing….] You are KILLING ME!” That recording quite clearly documents somebody undergoing deep emotional trauma, the kind of trauma that has the power to damage people for years or even lifetimes, whereas physical wounds usually heal in weeks or months. But physical abuse was clearly at issue as well, and a recording Depp submitted offered proof of that when Heard is heard saying “The last time it got crazy between us I really did think I was gonna lose my life. And I thought you would do it on accident.” Heard’s conclusions in regard to the “last time,” referring to an incident in Australia in which Depp severed his fingertip, were entirely reasonable.
So there is a great deal of valid latitude in terms of definitions in cases of domestic abuse, and in this sense the actual defamation charges against Heard, as opposed to implied charges against Depp, are extraordinarily weak. Do keep in mind the testimony Heard was compelled to give in court cannot be used as claims of defamation for libel. Only statements Heard has made out of court can be used against her, and in this case the statements made in the Washington Post article article in question — an article that got very little attention in the first half of the trial — were very benign . People must always remember it was Amber Heard that was put in jeopardy in this trial, not Johnny Depp, to the tune of $50 million, by an aging actor blaming his stagnating career on his beautiful young ex-wife, instead of blaming it on his waning marketability or the pressure COVID 19 put on the entire film industry. Furthermore, while Depp would like people to think an article most people never read seriously harmed his career, I would suggest that if Depp really wants to understand how his career went awry, he need only watch (although he says he does not watch his own films) the first 45 minutes of the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean series in which the scripting was so bad and Depp’s own acting was so horrible it is amazing his career survived at all beyond that. If he wants to understand his waning popularity, I am going to suggest he would do well to spend some time in front of mirror contemplating his aging skin as well as some time in front of a TV screen watching his awful movies.
Heard, who was not even born until almost three years after Depp began his adult acting career, did not mention Depp by name in her article nor even suggest he was guilty of the charges against him, in fact she seemed to be talking about a pattern of abusive relationships
over the years when she wrote, “Like many women, I had been harassed and sexually assaulted by the time I was of college age. But I kept quiet — I did not expect filing complaints to bring justice. And I didn’t see myself as a victim.”
Nevertheless, the aging Depp claimed that the decline in movie contracts he had experienced recently had nothing to do with his vanishing sex appeal (Depp is almost 60 years old, and
age ultimately slays almost all careers in Hollywood), but were in fact a direct result of the beautiful young Heard’s veiled but apparently career ending insinuations in the Washington Post article. Beyond the surprisingly benign comments made in that article, Heard herself has said very little publicly about the abusive nature of her stormy relationship with the beloved star of the Pirates of the Caribbean series, with the most serious accusations being made by the Hollywood media. In that context Heard did indeed become a symbol for abuse, but then again we are right back to defining the term “abuse.” Anybody that remains unclear at this point and continues to insist that physical abuse is the only kind of abuse that matters, needs to study the history of psychological torture. People can be psychologically tortured into insanity without ever touching them physically. Amnesty International regards that not only as abuse, but as a crime against humanity.
High Court and High Theatre
Despite the critical central focus of the article to this case, the content of the article itself has barely been mentioned, and while Heard’s lawyer, J. Benjamin Rottenborn (an unfortunately villainous sounding name that Depp took delight in repeating with emphasis at every chance), said, “[In this case] You’re going to see who the real Johnny Depp is — behind the fame, behind the pirate costumes,” I think it can be argued that ultimately the only thing absent in court from Depp’s normal tendency towards high theater was the pirate costume.
Courtroom theatrics aside, ascertaining the truth in relationships as stormy, convoluted, and full of lies and duplicity as this one was, is an almost impossible task. Whatever the real truth is, I think what we saw most clearly in this case is that Depp uses theatre in every aspect of his life, including the appearance of a previously absent vocal accent seemingly inspired by Depp’s now deceased friend Hunter S. Thompson. Talk show host Howard Stern and others not only accused Depp of narcissism, but also commented on Depp’s strange new on and off accent and puzzled over its origins, but in my opinion it is simply a reflection of the fact Johnny Depp never stops acting when in public and he is constantly tinkering with his public persona. At one point Depp, underscoring how important to his defense the back story of his “crazy abusive mother” was, engaged in a totally irrelevant display in which he stood up and acted out what he saw his mother doing after she took pills in a failed suicide attempt.
Evidence of tinkering and scripting by Depp’s legal team was abundant, as testimony from Depp and Depp’s witnesses all seemed to drip with suggestions of scripting and very careful word choice and the avoidance of certain topics. As Paula Todd, a professor of journalism at York University and a lawyer said, “Johnny Depp is giving, literally, a lesson in acting every time he gets up on the stand.” Lessons that saw each day end with boos from the crowd for the designated villain, Amber Heard, and booze and toasts for Depp for yet another masterful performance. Although I think it would only be fair to note that we are dealing with two career actors, and both could be accused of acting during the trial.
It appears as if Rottenborn was correct when he predicted at the start of the trial that it would quickly digress into a “mudslinging soap opera,” because almost the entire first half of the trial consisted of almost nothing but high theatre, complete with audience applause, and a carefully scripted narrative missing only a violin musical score that portrayed Depp as being, much like Captain Jack Sparrow, under some sort of ancient Mayan curse in which he has been forced to live his life being battered and bruised while navigating a stormy sea populated by legions of uncontrollable crazy women, and to this end Depp was only too happy to feed his mother’s memory and reputation into the gaping jaws of this overblown ship-swallowing-Kraken of a narrative.
While Depp did not actually urinate on his mother’s grave, he certainly crafted an image of her as just another out of control abusive crazy woman that the poor helpless Johnny (as well
as his poor helpless father) was fated to endure. For whatever reason he did not want to call her “mom” or “mother” but preferred “Betty Sue,” and noted that “Betty Sue” was “as cruel as anybody could be.” He described her as an irrational, violent “fire cracker” of a woman that abused him and his father constantly, although strangely he occasionally wears a necklace with her name on it. He blames his drug use on his mother and claims his lifetime of drugs began at age 11 when he took his mother’s nerve pills to escape the chaos caused by his crazy mother.
By contrast Depp’s father, whom we are led to believe Johnny took after, was portrayed as a mountain of restraint and a Zen garden of peacefulness, endured whatever his crazy wife threw at him. The two, father and son, stood bravely against the tiny but apparently supernaturally ferocious Betty Sue, whom even falsely accused Johnny (just like the evil Amber would later) of some unspoken crime and demanded his father punish him, but alas his saintly controlled father learned that it was a plot by his evil lying wife and he did not obey Betty Sue and punish Johnny, because men have to stand together against crazy lying women.
A perplexed young Johnny did not understand why his father took it and did not fight back. When Johnny’s dad eventually left the family Depp was apparently angry and felt him to be a coward for leaving. Unfortunately all of their careful albeit predictable scripting failed when Depp’s lawyer, whom would later object almost every time Amber Heard opened her mouth, set him up with the critical question that would justify all the time they spent talking about Johnny’s crazy mother and peaceful father, “tell me how your experiences as a child informed your relationship with Ms. Heard.” Unfortunately Johnny blew his lines or forgot his lines and began talking about raising his kids differently than his parents, which had nothing to do with the question.
Despite Depp blowing his lines, the purpose for the extended discussion of the irrational Betty Sue would become apparent later as testimony advanced. Whenever there was a question of bad behavior by Depp, he would deflect blame and (with violins playing) suggest he was reverting back to being a child again and facing his crazy mother, harkening the lyrics of the classic Police song Mother, “every girl I go out with, becomes my mother in the end.”
The witness stand featured a veritable pirate’s armada of obviously heavily scripted and directed friends and paid
associates of Johnny Depp, all of whom slung mud at Heard and praise at Johnny. Strangely, Depp’s former fiancé, Jennifer Grey, whom recently referred to Depp as “paranoid” and “destructive” was not summoned to testify, although her comments aligned perfectly with Heard’s comments in 2016 when she said, “He [Depp] is often paranoid and his temper is extremely scary.” Other former girlfriends have spoken in Depp’s defense, such Winona Ryder, but these women typically were closer to Depp’s age and did not have to deal with his post-Hunter Thompson drug binges. A relationship between two people of the same age, be they both in their twenties or both in their fifties, is a totally different situation than a relationship between an aging nearly 50 year old man and a stunningly beautiful and vibrant 23 year old woman for reasons that should be obvious (ironically Depp’s daughter is now the
same age Amber was when the couple began dating in 2009). That Johnny was jealous and controlling of his much younger girlfriend/wife should not be considered surprising.
The testimony of those who did appear on the stand, however, was not always consistent. For instance, at one point Depp’s sister testified and told the court that she never had any concerns about Depp’s alcohol and drug use, to which the defense responded by showing her a text she sent to Depp saying, “Stop drinking [Johnny]. Stop coke. Stop pills.” At points during testimony the contradictions digressed into the absurd, such as when the manager of one of his properties who began by saying she had never seen
Depp drink until the point he passed out, but then almost immediately contradicted herself and testified to finding Depp passed out face-first on the beach and having to sit him up and clean him off, which could have been a comedic-relief scene from a Pirates of the Caribbean movie featuring a drunken Jack Sparrow spitting out sand after being awakened on the beach after a night of heavy drinking with his pirate shipmates. “Excuse me,” says Jack Sparrow, “did I mention I never laid a hand on the girl…. and have you seen the large bottle I had with me last night, I swear I never drank a drop… hic“
Mystery of the Severed Finger
The absurdities of the stories told by Depp and his scallywag crew of “yes men” and other assorted Depp-adoring miscreants seemed without limit, but the most disturbing story of the trial (although Heard’s story of being cavity searched by Depp was pretty horrific as well) and the one that I think best supports Heard’s claims that Depp was the crazier of the two (and make no mistake, I believe the two were mutually abusive), was the story of Depp’s severed fingertip, the primary details of which are not disputed by either party, with the exception of how Depp’s finger was severed during the violent argument that took place in Australia during the filming of the fifth and last Pirates of the Caribbean movie in 2015.
Depp’s testimony regarding the argument, was that Amber Heard had severed his finger tip by hurling a bottle of alcohol at him. The bottle had apparently broken and somewhere in the mess Depp ended up losing his finger tip to the broken glass, at least that is Depp’s story.
Depp then apparently and admittedly went on a semi-psychotic rampage in which he was smashing things in the house, writing on walls, and used his bloody stump of a finger to write “I love you” and other more less flattering messages on a mirror and the walls. When his finger was not bleeding enough to scrawl more messages he began dipping his badly injured finger into paint and continued to write mostly unintelligible messages everywhere. Depp himself was so out of control he not only risked losing his entire finger, hand, or arm, but by dipping his terribly injured finger into paint to continue scrawling messages he could have easily given himself fatal blood poisoning. It was estimated that some $80,000 in damage was done to the house which Depp had leased for the duration of his filming of Pirates.
Depp was eventually convinced to go to emergency, and in court testimony he told the court that he had lied to emergency room staff and to almost everybody else when asked how he had severed his finger tip. He told emergency room staff that he himself had cut off his fingertip by catching it in a door jam, although it was later revealed that he had told another doctor that he had cut off his finger in the kitchen with a knife (another theory postulated it was Colonel Mustard in the Billiard Room with a candlestick). But on the stand he swore that he was telling the truth when he said that he had lied to everybody else, including people he knew and was close to, but that the court could be assured that he was now being truthful about his lies because, unlike the apparently “wickedly untruthful harpy” and “filthy whore” (Depp’s words) Amber, he was really just an incredibly honest person that just wanted the truth to be known, despite his lies. The truth is, according to Depp, that his lies were done to protect Amber or were just jokes or were otherwise misunderstood … “savvy?” He continued this narrative even after tape was played of a recording between Heard and Depp in which Amber pleaded with Depp, “please, don’t cut yourself, please don’t. You’re going to hurt yourself.” The implication of course was that Depp was prone to self-harm.
Depp’s strategy in trying to explain to the court why *he* had told so many different people in so many different circumstances that he had cut off his own finger, seems to have been ripped right out of Jordan Peterson’s “How to Get Even With Crazy Harpy Women” Men’s Rights Activists (MRA) playbook, essentially saying (and here I part paraphrase and part jest), “when I said that I cut off my finger, I really meant that she cut off my finger, because she is — to borrow a term from Jordan Peterson — a crazy harpy chaos dragon, but I did not want anybody to know that I had married said chaos dragon, thus I decided to lie.”
While diehard Depp fans may have no doubt that he meant it when he said that he did not mean it, and that he was telling the truth when he said that he had lied, others might be a tad skeptical and even confused.
This pattern of denial of his own words had, after all, emerged earlier in the trial when text messages between Depp and his friend, actor Paul Bettany, revealed that Depp had written, in reference to his wife Amber, that he wanted to “drown her before we burn her. I will fu@k her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she’s dead.” The court was also shown text messages where he had referred to his wife as an “idiot cow,” a “worthless hooker” and a “filthy whore.” At this point one might argue that Johnny Depp has transformed himself into a vulgar cross between Jack Sparrow and Hunter S. Thompson, as the corpse comments are exactly the types of comments Thompson might have made in his book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas while describing a deranged drug binge stream of consciousness. In fact Depp did try to blame these texts on the influence of Thompson, but having read Thompson’s most popular books, this was beyond what Thompson would of come up with. On any case, Depp once again assured the court that nothing he said or wrote that made him look bad could be believed or taken seriously. In the case of saying he would burn then fu@k his wife’s dead corpse he implied it was just a funny joke, and that people just don’t understand his unusual and macabre sense of humor. Thusly did Depp once again skillfully mimic the king of misogynists Jordan Peterson, who is famous for responding to all criticisms of himself by saying “I didn’t say that, and if I did I didn’t mean it, and if I did you didn’t understand it.” Anything not covered by this is covered by Depp claiming he had reverted back to a poor wounded child again facing down his demonic dragon mother, whom of course Heard had come to embody as well.
So if we ignore Depp’s seemingly insane comments about defiling his wife’s corpse and if we presume that the fingertip incident happened just as Depp described it, it sounds like it was a terrible but unintended freak accident — and yet Depp has since adopted a narrative that makes it sound as if Amber deliberately cut off his finger, and Depp’s supporters have adopted this narrative angrily screaming at detractors accusingly that “she [Heard] cut off his damn finger and even sh!t on his bed! She is violent and disgusting!” Such allegations conjure images of a sword wielding Heard hacking and slashing at Depp like Calypso in a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean, or perhaps jabbing at him with a razor-edged trident like Mera in the new Aquaman. But if it is true that Heard deliberately intended to sever Depp’s finger via the use of a carefully hurled vodka bottle, it must be considered right up there with Bruce Lee claiming he could kill a man ten different ways with a stuffed Bugs Bunny doll. Furthermore, if Amber cut off his finger deliberately then why would he tell so many people he cut it off himself?
One of the things that stands out most clearly in this whole fiasco is the fact that Depp fans can read for themselves even Depp’s own description of what happened in Australia and yet totally ignore the psychological implications. Depp spending what must have been hours trashing the house and writing in blood on the walls and mirrors then risking his life by dipping a horrible wound into paint in order to keep writing is not the behavior of a balanced person. It is quite arguably insane behavior. What this incident says about Depp’s mind and psychology generally is powerful and clearly favors Amber Heard’s descriptions of the relationship, and validates what she said about this incident specifically when she was secretly recorded by Depp saying, “”The last time it got crazy between us I really did think I was gonna lose my life. And I thought you would do it on accident [if nothing else].” This alone validates Heard saying she was in an abusive relationship that had her fearing for her life at times, and makes her comments in the Washington Post article, the frequently forgotten subject of the trial, seem like severe understatements.
When the Sh!t Hits the Bed.
The previous reference to Amber allegedly “sh!tting on his bed” has become a mantra for Depp fans to repeat, and it is used to prove conclusively just how crazy Amber is. The statement relates to an incident that was alleged by Depp’s maid in which she found “a turd” on Depp’s bed (a bed both he and Amber slept in). When the “turd incident” was examined at length by the judge in the 2018-2020 libel case against The Sun newspaper, the judge concluded the “turd in question” was almost certainly made by a dog, as not only was Depp away and out of town during the incident (thus Amber pooping on the bed would have served no purpose except to disgust and inconvenience Heard herself and the maid who were there in Depp’s absence), but this type of pooping or peeing behavior is also common with animals caught in emotional situations or when households are in turmoil or breaking up. The upheaval will cause the animals to behave in aberrant ways and mark their territory in unusual ways as well. So this “proof” that Amber was disgusting and insane was concluded by the judge to be nothing of the sort, and was more likely to be proof that the dog was just as upset as Heard and Depp.
The scope of the psychosis involved in the fingertip event is hard to quantify, both Heard and Depp were clearly traumatized by it, although both seem to have recovered significantly by the time they were photographed returning from Australia holding hands. For all those Depp fans calling Amber Heard “crazy” and “psychotic” and an assortment of other less flattering names, it was not Amber that risked fatal blood poisoning by dipping her badly
wounded finger into paint and using it to write on walls for who knows how long, until Depp’s stunned staff was finally able to convince him to go to the hospital. While Depp escaped blood poisoning, his insane rampage in Australia resulted in him developing a potentially fatal MRSA infection, a development that had Heard and others fearing for Depp’s life for a time. It was not Heard who thought it was funny to tell friends your spouse is a “filthy whore” and “worthless hooker,” then postulate murdering her, burning her corpse, and then having sex with the corpse afterwards. That is the talk of a crazy person or somebody jacked up on drugs. Couples fighting and calling each other names, even couples hurling pots and pans at each other, is nothing new and not an indication of insanity, but Depp’s rampage in Australia went far beyond that. Risking blood poisoning and doing what Depp did and said was beyond what most people could even fathom. One might attribute it all, and the Depp team clearly tried to do that, to a psychological reaction due to a serious injury, but as somebody that has been seriously injured multiple times in my life, even when assaulted, my first thoughts were to get to safety and get medical help. THAT is what a sane mind does, what Depp did was best summarized by the judge in The Sun libel case in 2020, Judge Andrew Nicol, when he wrote:
It is a sign of the depth of his rage that he admitted scrawling graffiti in blood from his injured finger and then, when that was insufficient, dipping his badly injured finger in paint and continuing to write messages and other things … I accept her evidence of the nature of the assaults he committed against her. They must have been terrifying. I accept that Mr Depp put her in fear of her life.
Even if you accept the judge’s conclusion, and I do, none of that exonerates the behavior of Amber Heard, who also engaged in theatrics and lied on the stand (just as Depp and his witnesses did) and in at least one instance seems to have tried to exaggerate her injuries, but we cannot know her reasons for doing that if in fact she did. One of the things the MeToo movement brought out was just how difficult it is for women to be believed, even when they have good evidence and the courage top speak. This can lead to women feeling like they have to fabricate evidence to make their cases ironclad because their word is not good enough, hence we saw the emergence of the term “believe women.” So even if Heard did exaggerate injuries it may be that she felt nobody would believe her without more substantive physical evidence, that does not justify it, it is just another complicating factor in a nightmarishly complicated relationship. But even if she did exaggerate her injuries, that does not mean everything she says is false nor does it mean she was not abused or that we should discard everything she says. Nobody is saying the lies of Johnny Depp or his witnesses means everything he says is false — once again it seems the man in the case is allowed to slide with his lies and the woman is not. The fact is, that like in so many domestic abuse cases of this nature that make it to court, where the truth lies exactly is difficult to tell, partially because everything is tangled up in firestorms of emotion and bad decisions and impulsive actions by both sides. The parties involved will frequently be vindicative and seeking to get even by making things worse, which is why the current author is frankly more interested in the broader impact this case is having on society.
A Broader Impact on Society
In the end, at least at the level of how it effects Heard and Depp specifically, I am not sure it really matters, because the evidence suggests they both were guilty of mutual abuse. It was two mismatched people trying to make a high-powered but ultimately ill-fated relationship work when they should have given it up long before they did. Unfortunately this is not how the radical MRA right wing and starry-eyed Depp fans are seeing it, they simply see Depp as a victimized man who had to deal with a crazy harpy woman who was trying to ruin his life, although all she really did (in terms of what is at issue in this case) was write a relatively benign article in the Washington Post, in which her omission of Depp’s name shows she had no desire to amplify the charges against him that the media was pushing, she wanted to write about the structures and institutions that feminists have written about for so long that favor and protect men from charges of abuse. I am worried about those institutions too, more so in the wake of this trial than before, as Depp has become a champion for aggrieved men everywhere and justification to ignore “crazy women.” The case has launched a move to utterly destroy the progress made by the MeToo movement along with Amber Heard (a massive campaign has been launched to end Heard’s acting career), and thus once again no longer taking women seriously. The gains made by MeToo I think were important and needed, thus I am worried that Depp’s star power will be used to try to erase all of that, and make women once again frightened to speak out.
If we were to accept what the MRAs are saying and that society’s institutions now are tilted too far in favor of women in cases such as this, I would suggest that is as it should be, because of the long history of vicious violence by men against women that only the most dishonest or delusional people would deny. That history of male violence brings with it a powerful psychological legacy or, rather, perhaps a kind of Jungian phylogenetic collective trauma that instills in women an anticipatory fear response whenever men get angry, triggering in some women an instinctual fight or flight response (reactionary violence). In the case of strong women like Amber Heard this might result in preemptive strikes, such as throwing things in order to warn the man off, actions that could be misinterpreted by others as offensive in nature but which are really a kind of genetic defense mechanism programmed by countless generations of male abuse of women.
The physical superiority of males, generally speaking, is a real thing and a dangerous thing for the so-called “weaker sex,” and oddly it is why the right wing is fighting so hard now against transgender women (who are biologically male) competing in women’s sports. I, as a transgender person myself, happen to agree that biological males should not be competing in women’s sports unless invited to do so by women athletes because, particularly in sports in which physical power and contact is a factor, it can be dangerous to the women involved as well as unfair. The right wing is strongly opposed to this because they recognize that men are generally physically stronger than women. But you cannot have it both ways. If you are concerned that men have a physical advantage over women in competition then you must admit they have a physical advantage in physical confrontations as well, and that recognizing this women may be instinctually triggered to strike first or otherwise engage in behavior designed to level the playing field. The system and society thus must be inclined to give women every benefit of the doubt in situations like this, but of course must seek to do so without unfairly persecuting innocent men.
The real danger in this case, in my opinion, transcends Depp and Heard as individuals and any jeopardy they might face themselves. Win or lose, whatever happens I am sure both parties will be just fine, and they will continue to live lives of incredible privilege. The real danger in this case relates to the effect it is having on society at large. Women have been fighting a pitched battle for over a century to secure not only their rights but their personal safety, and in that process the MeToo movement has been important in terms of raising awareness in society to the ubiquity of the threat to women and the need to address it, and especially in making it okay for women to feel confident to speak out about abuse. Women’s rights — and indeed LGBT rights — have been under assault by the right wing and MRAs for sometime now, to the point that even Roe v Wade now seems set to fall, a scenario utterly unthinkable even five years ago.
Meaningful gains in awareness were made by the MeToo movement, but this high profile case and the power of Depp’s celebrity status is now being used by the right to bludgeon back the advances made by women in this regard, and all for the love of Johnny. This one dysfunctional and highly unusual Hollywood relationship should not mean as much as it does, and yet it has not only captured the attention of the western world, but it now threatens to have serious and meaningful consequences for society at large and for women specifically.
The case has received enormous attention and caused a firestorm of debate on social media. There is no question the majority of support has been for Johnny Depp. The JohnnyDeppisInnocent hashtag on TikTok, at last check, had received a staggering 1.6 billion views, while, on the other hand, the AmberHeardCancelled hashtag has gotten 40 million views, which is a reference to the campaign that was started to get Heard fired from her acting job portraying Mera in the most recent Aquaman movie. The case has become a culture war issue and Depp’s defenders for the most part are not interested in what this case is really about (libel), they are interested in trying and convicting Heard for viciously attacking Depp with false charges of abuse, and by extension attacking all men.
While on the one hand many are declaring this trial a “landmark” case that spells the final death of the MeToo movement and the beginning of a reversal of its effects, in some ways it is validating many of the things women have always said, namely, that verdicts favoring men are made without the women ever being heard. Women not being heard, and people not even being interested in hearing them, is exactly what happened in this case with almost 1.6 billion people signing on to the #JohnnyDeppIsInnocent hashtag before Amber Heard had even spoken a single word on the stand. She was deemed guilty until proven innocent, and Depp’s fans wanted her punished immediately. No trial necessary. The digital equivalent of a million-person strong pitch forked mob began a campaign to destroy Heard’s career and make sure she never acts again, all before a verdict from the court and all before she had been heard. It must therefore be considered cosmically ironic that the maiden name of the woman in this case is “Heard.”
In Conclusion: A Word on Celebrities and the Future of Women Being Heard.
Unlike other authors on this subject, I am not actually trying to blame or exonerate Depp or Heard, because I believe the two were trapped in a horrific mutually abusive co-dependent relationship involving a lot drugs and alcohol and sex and perhaps unfaithfulness, basically all of the things so common in Hollywood that make it so dysfunctional. It it would be unfair, however, not to note the power imbalance in the relationship: Depp was almost twice Heard’s age when they began dating, he was far wealthier than her and far better known, not to mention constantly surrounded by a small army of yes men that did his bidding. If it seems I have been harsh on Depp it is only because I was attempting to right a perceptual scale that had been grotesquely tilted in Depp’s favor before the first day of the trial had even taken place. But as actor I am a fan of his, and I am willing to concede artists such as Depp can be prone to eccentric and even destructive behavior, especially if you add drugs to the equation.
Generally speaking I would have to say that I do not think it is good to seek to destroy or crucify our cultural heroes and heroines, whom society has put upon pedestals, because in doing so we all suffer to a certain degree. Many of these celebrities have become like extended family and in some cases extensions of ourselves. They are, rightly or wrongly, representatives of what we value, and for all these reasons I think that we should therefore avoid tearing them down unless it is absolutely necessary, and sometimes it is. But in this case I do not think it is necessary, we can conclude they are human and made mistakes and ended up caught up in mutually abusive and ultimately doomed relationship, and in many ways the court case is just a continuation of the the mutual abuse.
When our idols are injured or fall, we feel it and are impacted ourselves because we have adopted these people into our hearts and in many cases integrated parts of them into our personalities, which is why so many take attacks on their heroes and heroines so personally, and which in this case has resulted in people ferociously defending Johnny Depp …. or is it Jack Sparrow … or is there any way of separating the two? In any case we must never lose sight of the fact that these seemingly quasi-Olympian demigod-like figures are really just human beings like the rest of us, and in many ways they have been put into very difficult situations where they are both adored and worshipped, but at the same time hyper-scrutinized and critiqued. They must therefore maintain a kind of eternal vigilance in defending their images and reputations.
During the course of this court case both parties have suffered significant damage to their reputations, and that is unfortunate because in the end I find myself “highly disinclined to acquiesce” to the suggestion that either Heard or Depp are incapable of doing good. We have far too much evidence to the contrary; when they are not beating each other over the head at home or in court, they have involved themselves in community work and charity that should be noted and which is commendable. For example, while Amber Heard may not have given all of the $7 million she had promised to give to charity, she certainly did give a lot of money to charity and she ultimately did not have to give anything. She has also been involved in other charity efforts.
Johnny Depp too has done good things, like his tours of children’s hospitals in full Jack Sparrow attire, which was a very good thing for him to do that brought enormous joy to many sick children, and love him or hate in you must give him credit for that.
People are complex at the best of times, add to that incredible wealth, adoration, and power, and put them at conflict with another similar person under the same roof, and I think what we saw in the Depp / Heard relationship should not be considered entirely surprising. That they both have problems is clear, but I do not think either are terrible people.
At the end of the day, who is right and who is wrong is not as important as the larger effect the case has had on society, and I would suggest the danger it poses to the advances women have made in recent decades. Women had just reached a place where they were more willing to come out and speak about abuse, but the Depp case now threatens to undo all that. Whereas Johnny Depp may have found that “every woman turns into his mother in the end,” the MRA right would like every woman that speaks out about abuse to turn into Amber Heard in the end and be labelled a “lying man-hater.” If Heard is shamed enough in public it will send a chilling message to women everywhere, “if you speak and your evidence is not 100%, you risk being humiliated in public and called a liar.”
Unfortunately this assault on women is part of a larger trend we have seen in society recently. Almost every direction we turn it seems the progress we have made as a society is being beaten back by reactionary forces that want to return us to the dark ages, which they call “traditional values,” but which features not only LGBT returning to the closet afraid and shameful and demonized as “pedophiles,” but women returning to the kitchen barefoot and pregnant where they can shut up and mind the needs of their superiors. Win or lose JOhnny Depp and Amber Heard will be fine when this latest trial is over and will no doubt continue to live privileged lives. One might suppose there is a possibility, if Depp, loses that he will just wait for the next opportunity to drag Heard back into court and maintain his seemingly endless harassment of his ex-wife, but even so both will likely land on their feet. The bigger concern is for society as a whole and women specifically. We must make sure not to allow the regressive reactionary forces that have been so emboldened and amplified by this case to beat back advances that have been made for women’s rights. The environment created by the MeToo movement that empowered and encouraged women not to be afraid to speak out about their abuse cannot be undone. As Amber Heard herself said on Youtube, no matter what the outcome of this trial, “women cannot and will not any longer accept silence.” Johnny Depp and his supporters cannot be allowed to drown out the voices of women so they are once again afraid to speak out or no longer heard when they do.
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