We need to talk about Depp v Heard

Reporting on this trial has been a real test of my journalistic skills, and my personal resilience

Clémence Michallon
New York
Wednesday 01 June 2022 21:30 BST
If everyone else was going talk about the trial, it seemed crucial to contribute to the conversation
If everyone else was going talk about the trial, it seemed crucial to contribute to the conversation (AP)

Since 11 April, my professional life (and, to a degree, my personal one) has been dominated by the Depp v Heard trial. I dived straight in on day one, travelling to Fairfax, Virginia to witness the beginning of the proceedings in person. I rubbed elbows with Johnny Depp fans and the occasional Amber Heard supporter. I listened to prospective jurors. I ate mac and cheese at the cafeteria. I flashed the neon wristband that gave me access to the courtroom so that police officers would wave me through.

I returned to New York City not realising that I had left my brain in Fairfax. Over the following weeks, the trial lived rent-free inside my head. There were hours of harrowing testimony. Online, Depp’s fans were seemingly everywhere, sharing theories along with information they viewed as proof of Depp’s innocence.

Several people reported being bombarded with content about the trial despite never having looked up anything to do with it. Outside of work hours, if I went for dinner or drinks, the trial inevitably came up in conversation. I wanted to talk about it, and I never wanted to talk about it again. I wanted to answer people’s questions, and I was so tired of doing that work in my free time in addition to during work hours. It felt strange, overwhelming, and never-ending.

There were times when I wondered whether it was a good idea to cover the trial at all. It was all so sordid. Much of the evidence and testimony had already been uncovered during Depp’s 2020 trial against The Sun.

And yet, not talking about it didn’t seem like an option – and not just because of the trial’s ubiquity. As journalist Michael Hobbes pointed out on Twitter, a lack of counternarrative on the part of “legitimate” media outlets meant the public was left to get information “almost exclusively from right-wing media and social media memes”.

Hobbes linked to an article by journalist Rebecca Davis for the South African online newspaper Daily Maverick, in which she wrote: “It’s not just social media which is delivering a thoroughly warped interpretation of the Depp-Heard trial. Tabloids are having a field day with the lawsuit, which is airing the dirty laundry of its celebrity participants in irresistibly sordid detail. The coverage given to the trial by more ‘serious’ publications has been far more muted.”

Meanwhile, Vice’s Anna Merlan reported that YouTubers whose content had never touched on anything to do with the trial were hopping on the Depp v Heard bandwagon in a “queasy, inevitable Johnny Depp gold rush”.

So, yes, if everyone else was going talk about it, then it seemed crucial to contribute to the conversation: to report from the courtroom, explain technicalities, and reflect on the treatment of the trial online.

Celebrity stories can often elicit disdain. More than one person has asked me, over the past seven weeks, why people care at all. This particular celebrity story is about two famous people, sure, but it’s about so much more. The story we have been told is one of violence and suffering, and raises questions about who we, as a society, believe when someone makes an allegation. Experts have already expressed concern about how this case could affect survivors of domestic abuse, and whether it might keep them from coming forward.

And so, as much as I have wished for the trial to end – as much as I wish it hadn’t turned into such a spectacle in the first place – we need to talk about Depp v Heard. The verdict is making headlines today, of course, but the effects of the whole charade will linger long after.


Clémence Michallon

Senior people writer

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in