Everything we’ve learnt from the Depp v Heard trial

RIP #MeToo: it is now nothing but a badge of honour for the accused

Charlotte Proudman
Friday 27 May 2022 18:41 BST
Over the past month, extremely personal, intimate and horrifying testimonies have been shared with us
Over the past month, extremely personal, intimate and horrifying testimonies have been shared with us (AP)

What a few months it’s been for feminism. Scrap that, what a few years it’s been... full stop. Five years ago, #MeToo, #EnoughisEnough, #TimeIsUp and #BelieveWomen were trending (but that’s all it was: a “trend”). Women were believed, we were strong, we had a voice (and my God did we use it). We were a sisterhood, and we shamed men who used and abused us. Not so now, with the Johnny Deppy and Amber Heard trial.

We were once on the verge of change, rallying against embedded misogyny in our lives, our work and our beds. Remember when Oprah Winfrey gave the “performance” of her life at the Golden Globes? “For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared speak their truth to the power of those men… but their time is up,” she said. We believed her; we believed in #MeToo. We believed our time was now – that misogyny was up. It was supposed to be the feminist revolution.

Fast forward five years, and #AmberHeardisaLiar, #mentoo, #AmberHeardisapsychopath and #freejohnny (who is not actually in jail), along with full-on death threats aimed at a woman, are plastered all over social media. If you thought witch trials had been abolished, you were wrong – you’re watching one in real time. If you thought The Handmaid’s Tale was fiction, you were wrong. You’re watching a warped version playing out on our screens and in our homes.

I recently saw a tweet that said: “Brb on my way to go murder Amber Heard that f****** psycho #JusticeForJohnnyDepp.” All because Amber Heard, the ex-wife of Hollywood star Johnny Depp, wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post four years ago to explain that she was a “a public figure representing domestic abuse” who had “felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.”

Over the past month, extremely personal, intimate, and at times horrifying testimonies and evidence have been shared with us, the public. Millions of people have been watching the trial. The unavoidable and depressing outcome of this is that Heard has been subjected to visceral misogynistic hatred.

Diehard fans do not care that Depp has already lost a libel case he brought against The Sun for labelling him a “wife beater” (because the judge found that he was one). “Deppheads”, as they style themselves, have decided that they know more than a high-court judge, who ruled that Depp did assault his wife on 12 occasions.

Even the fact that the Court of Appeal rejected Depp’s appeal to overturn the decision doesn’t seem to bother them. Yet when women speak out about Depp v Heard, as I have them do, they ask me to “respect the decision of the jury”. Do they respect the decision of Mr Justice Nichol? No.

It has become clear that three decades of personifying a loveable-rogue character and being constantly in the public eye is enough to prove Depp’s innocence in some people’s eyes. Kate Moss defends him (despite the fact that he was arrested while they were together because he trashed a hotel room in a violent, blind rage). In the court of social media, that means Heard is the abuser.

Damning evidence, previous judgments from the UK courts, and the stream of vile text messages calling Heard “the slippery whore that I donated my junk to for a while” – alongside a non-stop dictionary of other misogynistic profanities – is not enough to sway the “Deppheads”. Amber Heard was “lucky” to have him. Swoon.

The disheartening and depressing truth is that this case could have been the second mighty wave of the #MeToo movement, where once again we rallied for justice, for women and for survivors. But that is not what happened. Instead, we have collectively allowed the mocking of a traumatised woman, and some of us have threatened her baby and fetishised her alleged sexual assault.

What we’ve learnt from the Depp v Heard case is that the #MeToo movement was never real. There was never a change in society or a new safe space where we would believe all women and survivors of abuse. This case has made it clear: the #MeToo movement was just one hell of a PR stunt for some rich, out-of-touch people in Hollywood to seem relatable for a second.

We’ve seen the way women have been treated and vilified: from Britney Spears to Amy Winehouse, Caroline Flack, Whitney Houston and Meghan Markle. Those who are still with us have talked of the dark times they’ve found themselves facing.

We’ve seen this before. The same harassment, the same vicious, misogynistic witch hunts – just with different woman to trash. Throw in the fact that social media has never been stronger, and millions across various platforms are free to decide that they are judge, jury and executioner. On Twitter, you are either Team Depp or team #AmberTurd. There is no option to be Team Justice.

Influencers, commentors, hashtag creators and “TikTok creators” don’t seem to grasp that they don’t get to decide the outcome of the case – or maybe they do? In their heart of hearts it seems that they seriously stand with Johnny. They hold on to his innocence simply because he was adorable in Edward Scissorhands, and therefore who cares if he allegedly rammed an alcohol bottle into his wife’s vagina? He called himself “the monster”, after all.

One of the most hypocritical and bizarre outcomes of this type of trial by social media is that it seems to be the younger generation making mock clips and sharing the “funniest moments from the case so far”. Yet, not so long ago, they were the “woke” generation – accused of “cancelling” people for assuming a pronoun or making a rape joke; the butt – themselves – of the withering contempt of right-wing TV pundits.

It is the same generation whose members, in the last five years, saw the #MeToo movement and Black Lives Matter as the most important fights of our time, but are now posting TikTok videos of Amber describing how she was brutally sexually assaulted with captions such as “Trying to see what Depp did wrong here” or “Sounds amazing to me”.

Well, I have a message for them: Johnny Depp won’t see your weird video belittling and mocking allegations of sexual assault, but your friend who was spiked, raped, sexual harassed or assaulted will. Every time you mock Amber Heard, you’re complicit in the abuse of every alleged victim.

A barrister (who should have known better) called me out for supporting women who named and shamed their rapists or abusers on social media. Apparently, such things should not be decided by Twitter but by a court of law. You mean women should put their trust in a legal system built by men and for men? Yeah, right: the same legal system that allows Depp to humiliate and almost bankrupt Heard for daring to speak out?

The same legal system that turns a blind eye to the decriminalisation of rape? The same legal system that puts women behind bars for fighting back after suffering years of domestic abuse? I’m not sure I would put my faith in it; would you?

We talk about the truth prevailing in a court of law, but honestly, what’s the difference between a jury verdict and social-media opinion? This is a show trial, a media circus, broadcast to the entire world (with adverts of course), with influencers cashing in on victim-blaming memes, whilst ageing Depp with his man-bun gets to relive the fame and glory from even younger fans this time round.

It doesn’t matter where a trial takes place over allegations of male violence – it’s always the same process and outcome. It’s her head on a stick. It’s her body that’s floating or drowning. It’s her funeral.

This might be controversial, but the men who said their livelihoods were ruined by #MeToo have done pretty well out of it. It’s almost like the shame benefited them somehow. Perhaps there really is no such thing as bad publicity, especially when those printing the stories are the same white, powerful men who are often also accused of sexual harassment. It’s almost like one big club. A public handshake. A badge of honour.

Let’s look at the career paths of those who’ve admitted sexual misconduct: Ben Affleck apologised for acting “inappropriately towards Ms [Hilarie] Burton” in 2017. Yet he’s rumoured to have landed a huge deal to return as Batman; and Burton – well, where is she?

Louis CK admitted to sexual misconduct in 2017 after masturbating in front of younger women. Last year, he went on a nationwide comedy tour in the US that sold out in 24 cities, and he also won a Grammy in April for Best Comedy Album. As his accuser said at the time of his win, “nobody cares” about #MeToo any more.

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Depp is suing Heard for ruining his career. Yet he arrives at court to cheering crowds and a show of public affection – while Heard is running scared from death threats made against her and her baby. Sorry, whose livelihood is being destroyed again?

And then there are the men who did go through trials for murdering or abusing women. OJ Simpson was found in a civil court, by a jury, to have been responsible for the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Yet he’s still worshipped. Mel Gibson was charged with misdemeanour spousal battery and pleaded no contest in a deal with prosecutors that kept him out of jail, yet continues to direct award-winning movies on our screens.

Many of us are tired of powerful men getting away with terrible things. We’re tired of watching some of them twist the narrative to blame their victims. Some of us have stood up in defence of Heard after watching the world try to dismiss her alleged experience.

Some of us do not care about the case at all. And still others of us will defend Depp – and men like him – unto the ends of the earth. Those people will even bring their babies to court, hoping to catch a glimpse of the goofy pirate man.

Regardless of whether you believe Heard, I never thought, after the #MeToo movement, that we would witness anything quite like this. It is with a heavy heart that I bid farewell to #MeToo – #RIP the movement that was supposed to believe (and protect) women. It is now nothing but a badge of honour for the accused.

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