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The crowd outside the courtroom erupted today when a Fairfax jury ruled in favor of Johnny Depp in the actor’s defamation lawsuit against ex-wife Amber Heard. After six weeks of proceedings, the jury ruled unanimously that Heard’s claims of domestic violence in her 2018 op-ed were defamatory towards Depp. The jury determined the actress owes Depp $15 million, and Depp owes Heard $2 million for defaming Heard through his lawyer on one point in Heard’s countersuit.
After deliberating for almost 13 hours, the jury reached their decision after lunch Wednesday, with the judge reading the verdict at 3:20pm. Depp was not present for the verdict but watched the livestream from the United Kingdom, CourtTV legal correspondent Chanley Shá Painter reported.
Upon the favorable verdict, he posted a statement expressing his gratitude to his legal team, the court, and his supporters. “I also hope that the position will now return to the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ both within the courts and the media,” Depp said. “Veritas numquam perit. Truth never perishes.”
Along with Depp were more than 3 million viewers tuning in to watch the verdict. After each criterion for defamation was found to be applicable in Depp’s case, the live feed of the trial exploded. Comments flowed in like, “This is the day you almost caught Jack Sparrow,” and “Johnny is getting his life back.”
With such public hysteria upon the favorable verdict for Depp, the Depp v. Heard trial says far more about American viewers than it does the “Pirates of the Caribbean” star.
Since Depp took the stand in mid-April, the $50 million suit has accrued more national attention than even the Supreme Court’s anticipated opinion on Roe v. Wade. As of May 16, a study of average social media interactions with published articles on the Depp trial and on abortion revealed that Depp received 508 engagements to abortion’s 141. Abortion could be rolled back to a state decision, but the nation wants to know if mud will stick in Hollywood.
It’s a sensational case, with Heard claiming Depp sexually abused her with a liquor bottle and Depp claiming she made up the accusations and was the real abuser. Depp’s testimony in mid-April took the internet by storm as fans circulated viral TikToks mocking Heard, vilifying her lawyers, and enshrining Depp as the true victim. Depp’s debonair presentation pitted the nation against his ex-wife — a sentiment fueled by the blunders of Heard’s legal team and later Heard’s own testimony.
The public adoration spread to Depp’s legal team with videos fawning over his lead attorneys Ben Chew and Camille Vasquez. Chew’s reactions to Heard in the courtroom gathered a following, and Vasquez’s brutal cross-examination of Heard and numerous sustained objections to Heard’s redirect made her an overnight favorite.
While Depp’s position might have genuinely have gone to some people’s hearts, the case clearly went to some of their heads, with fans lining up outside the courthouse at 2:30 am to get one of the 100 seats inside, bringing Depp emotional support alpacas, paying $400 to get their comments bumped up on the live feed, and generating a #justiceforjohnnydepp hashtag that gathered more than 18 billion views.
The public rejected Heard with the same tenacity with which they embraced Depp. They adored the one, so they hated the other. Viral videos mocking Heard’s reactions, virulent comments on live streams, death threats the actress says she’s received (one saying, “people want to put my baby in the microwave”), conspiracy theories of Heard snorting cocaine on the stand, comments crucifying Heard’s witnesses for their appearance, and a petition with more than 4 million names to remove her from “Aquaman 2” presented an ugly backdrop for the trial.
The public consensus? Heard is the villain, and Depp can do no wrong – a whiplash reaction to a case that follows just five years after the accusations of Harvey Weinstein began to roll in in 2017. Since accusations against Weinstein christened the Me Too movement, droves of women have accused numerous Hollywood stars, directors, and executives of sexual harassment.
The Me Too movement granted an exception to the American principle of innocent until proven guilty. As a result of Weinstein’s abuse, every man accused in Hollywood is deemed automatically guilty in the public eye.
Just not Johnny Depp. Who knew all it would take to flip the Me Too movement on its head was to put Jack Sparrow on trial? The childhood hero is now the symbol of a renewed vision of justice—one that grants men the right to be abused too. Depp was the stone on which the Me Too movement broke because he, as the victim, is the hero.
We have a flawed view of heroes — one in which victims are heroes by sheer nature of being a victim. We’ve reduced humanity to that of predator and prey, perpetrator and victim, enemy and hero. In the artificially reduced world of oppressor versus oppressed, morality hinges on status. If you’re the oppressor, you’re wrong. And with no other variables other than perpetrator and victim, if you’re the oppressed party, then naturally you’re right.
So we find ourselves in the middle of a culture that, while preaching a gray gospel, swears a black and white nexus between victim and hero. We have divorced morality from the old sense of heroism and married it to the state of being a victim. True heroism—doing the right thing no matter the cost—is no longer an internal choice but an external byproduct of an evil perpetrated against you. Our modern conception of heroism only means absorbing a wrong done to you.
This critical race theory tenet that the world revolves around the axis of retribution and oppressor versus oppressed is so embedded in our thinking as to give us the Me Too movement and the public rage against Heard. If Depp is the hero because he is the true victim, then the one oppressing him is the true anti-hero. Heard is now public enemy number one. (Behind Donald Trump, of course.)
The Me Too movement seeks to give women a voice by glorifying the victim—but when we make our victims heroes, we have counterfeited heroism. All of a sudden, the victimized is by nature the virtuous. So we get America’s latest fake hero, Johnny Depp.
Well, many recordings, text messages, and videos that demonstrate Depp isn’t all that virtuous. In Chew’s words in his Friday closing, “Mr. Depp is no saint, and he has never claimed to be one.”
In fact, his virtuosity is the opposite of what his case proves. He calls his wife vile names, using explicative upon explicative, beating up cabinets when he’s drunk. He takes opioids with abandon and drinks himself asleep.
And yet the public idolizes him. Their worship of Depp for externals—his story of abuse, his humorous quips, and Heard’s lackluster defense—underscores the frivolity and subjectivity with which we assign our heroes.
Either the public needs no saint on their throne, or they believe Depp is one. I don’t know which is scarier.
Beth Whitehead is an intern at The Federalist and a journalism major at Patrick Henry College where she fondly excuses the excess amount of coffee she drinks as an occupational hazard.