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Time has shown Amber Heard to be the real winner – not ‘wife beater’ Depp

Her resilience in returning to the public eye after the horror of her experience is now being recognised. It’s about time

Katie Edwards
Tuesday 27 June 2023 12:58 BST
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Amber Heard confirms move to Madrid in Spanish-speaking interview

This time last year, only a few weeks following the verdict of the Depp v Heard trial, social media was still flooded with anti-Heard content. Even those who didn’t watch a second of the former couple’s televised court shenanigans couldn’t avoid the hectoring and harassment of Heard and the martyring of Depp.

After his UK trial against The Sun left him with the label of “wife-beater”, the US defamation case verdict allowed Depp to be reconstructed as a hero of domestic abuse against men. Heard, meanwhile, was cast as #MeToo cautionary tale – a warning of what happens when you believe women.

What a difference a year makes.

Not so long ago, even a sniff of sympathy for Heard online would be drowned out by Depp supporters, who’d rant and accuse, vilify, deride and insult anyone who dared to show compassion for Heard’s online evisceration.

Last weekend, Heard attended the Taormina film festival to promote her film In the Fire – her first since the US trial transformed her into social media’s most despised woman. In scenes unimaginable only a few months ago, the event saw her receive rapturous acclaim, support, and celebration by both colleagues and fans. Social media trended with hashtags #AmberHeardIsWorthIt – a nod to her role as ambassador for cosmetics giant L’oreal - and #IStandWithAmberHeard.

Well, it’s not a total inversion of support, I grant you – but it’s significant. After all, last month Depp was treated to a hero’s welcome at Cannes, where his latest film Jeanne du Barry opened the prestigious film festival. But his appearance wasn’t without controversy. While Depp was given a seven-minute standing ovation, #CannesYouNot, an online campaign objecting to Depp headlining a major industry event, trended on social media.

Some of the cast and crew of film La Ravissement wore t-shirts emblazoned with Heard’s face to their screening at the Cannes festival. Public and industry criticism of festival chief Thierry Fremaux proved enough for him to defend his decision to honour Depp, telling the press ahead of his festival “I don’t know about the image of Johnny Depp in the US. To tell you the truth, in my life, I only have one rule, it’s the freedom of thinking, and the freedom of speech and acting within a legal framework”.

Fremaux’s chimed with Depp’s own rambling response to journalists at his post-screening press conference where he attempted to cast himself as a victim of cancel culture and post-#MeToo grift. After arriving 42 minutes late, the actor gave some astonishing answers, including, to a journo who asked what Depp would say to those who didn’t think he should be headlining the Cannes festival: “Imagine that they said to me, I cannot go to McDonald’s … for life … because somewhere … if you got them all in one room, 39 people watched me eat a Big Mac on a loop. Who are they? Why do they care? Some species … a tower of mashed potatoes covered in light from a computer screen.’

Ri-iight. Glad we got that cleared up, Johnny.

So, what’s changed?

Maybe we’ve woken up sweaty-browed from the Johnny-fever of the trial and thought more carefully about our treatment of Heard. Even if you didn’t agree with her testimony, was the months of mass abuse really proportionate? It’s hard to think of her vilification as anything other than misogyny gone viral.

Maybe it’s the effect of documentaries such as Channel 4’s Depp v Heard that showed the discrepancies in the UK and US testimonies. The much-memed “megapint” courtroom exchange between Depp and one of Heard’s legal team during the US trial, for example, became one of the most celebrated moments of the time. Depp appeared to mock Heard’s lawyer’s use of the term to describe a very large measure of wine as if he’d never heard it before. The C4 doc showed us that, in fact, Depp had coined the phrase himself during the UK trial.

Maybe we’ve had time to reflect on whose interests are really being served by the cancel culture narrative that celebrities like to construct when they’ve been called out for bad behaviour and even abuse. Of course, Depp hasn’t been cancelled. He’s been lionised by his public. He’s been honoured by his industry. He’s been given high-profile platforms by brands from Dior to Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty. For Depp, after years of high-budget flops, growing rumours about his lack of professionalism on set, and dwindling on-screen appeal the trial has worked better than even the most sophisticated PR campaign.

As we all know, Heard didn’t fair so well. I’m not sure I’d have left my house again if I’d been subjected to the same level of malice that she’s had to contend with – but she’s back out there. Her film may not have headlined the Cannes film festival, and her role in Aquaman 2 may be in doubt – but she’s still working. She’s still showing her face. She’s still facing the public, not knowing what might greet her. That takes guts.

Her warm reception at the Taormina film festival shows that the balance has shifted since last year’s verdict. Heard’s resilience in returning to the public eye after the horror of her experience is now being recognised. It’s about time.

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