What have we learnt from #MeToo? Johnny Depp v Amber Heard holds the answer

MeToo was supposed to herald a new age with increased understanding of the dynamics of abusive relationships and the maltreatment of survivors of sexual violence

Katie Edwards
Wednesday 11 May 2022 09:25
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<p>Then came Depp v Heard 2.0 – and all that has gone before seems to count for nothing</p>

Then came Depp v Heard 2.0 – and all that has gone before seems to count for nothing

Remember #MeToo? #TimeIsUp? #EnoughisEnough? How about #BelieveWomen? Only five years ago we seemed to be on the brink of a sea change, finally, finally turning the tide against culturally embedded misogyny.

The #MeToo hashtag seemed to offer a glimpse into the immense scale of sexual violence, abuse and harassment against women across the world.

#MeToo was supposed to herald a new age with increased understanding of the dynamics of abusive relationships, the maltreatment of survivors of sexual violence, and the socio-cultural context that supports perpetrators and allows them to hide in plain sight.

When Harvey Weinstein was brought to account for years of abuse against women, it seemed to signal that enough really was enough in Hollywood and that women might now be respected – even believed.

But then came Depp v Heard 2.0 – and all that has gone before seems to count for nothing.

This week, we watched a woman sob as she recounted several alleged sexual assaults perpetrated by her ex-husband. The response? She was ridiculed for “overacting” and “tearless crying”. We listened to her descriptions of the attacks – the graphic details she had to deliver to a packed courtroom and a global audience. The reaction? Pinocchio filters added to recordings of her testimony. We looked on as she whispered, “I don’t want to do this anymore… I can’t believe I’m having to do this.” The reply on social media? Derision and the creation of memes mocking her facial expressions.

There were no special measures in the court. She had to take the stand, directly facing the alleged perpetrator – who, at one point, smirked during her testimony. The court was so lax that as the woman left the stand for the morning break, she almost ran into the alleged perpetrator as he was leaving the room.

As if rape reporting rates aren’t meagre enough, how many women would even consider sexual violence disclosure after witnessing that treatment? How many women felt physically sick listening to the testimony and then seeing the judgements, insults and derision across social media? What the hell happened to #MeToo?

It turns out that all we should have learned in the five years since the #MeToo movement went viral is that it means sweet FA if it’s a popular, fanciable celebrity bloke that’s in the frame. How bone-achingly, soul-grindingly depressing.

Don’t worry, I already know the likely response to this article. Why can’t #MeToo-ers understand that men can also be victims of domestic violence? Bloody hell, women can be so sexist! And of course Depp was smirking during his ex-wife’s testimony – wouldn’t you laugh in disbelief if someone was telling outrageous lies about you in court?

Also, Johnny was really adorable in Edward Scissorhands and hilarious as Captain Jack Sparrow. Amber Heard was so lucky to have him, he must be innocent. No one that sweet, funny and appealing could ever do anything so vile.

But that’s the thing about celebrities like Johnny Depp, the ones who’ve been around for decades. They become part of our lives, playing a significant role in our memories of times gone by. We make them rich through our desire to know them – perhaps even imagining that we do have some connection with them -- and they’re in our homes via our screens on a regular basis.

Their physical appearances and voices are so familiar that we mistakenly believe we truly know the private human behind the famous face. But we don’t. And we can’t.

Yet the Depp v Heard defamation trial has proved polarising. Righteous Depp defenders spit misogynistic insults at Heard, claiming that they don’t hate women – and many members of Team Depp are women – they just hate Amber Heard for ruining Johnny’s life with her lies.

“Deppheads” feel sure that their idol is a wholly innocent man. They’re on the right side of justice, denouncing the cynical and despicable Heard for exploiting post-#MeToo cancel culture to benefit her own career and bank balance.

Never mind that Depp has already lost the libel case he brought against The Sun for labelling him a “wife beater”. Never mind that there’s already a High Court ruling that he did assault his wife – or that his appeal to overturn the verdict was rejected. Ignore the vile text messages calling Heard “the slippery w**** that I donated my j*** to for a while” and a dictionary of other misogynistic profanities.

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Despite all that’s gone before and all that’s been heard and shown in evidence, the crowds still gather, applauding or holding #JusticeforJohnny placards, to welcome their idol at the court gates. Immediately following the testimony of his ex-wife, they’ll wave and smile encouragingly to him as he leaves the courtroom.

Fans will delight in the pile of gummy bears and jelly beans on his table, and videos of the drawings and doodles he makes in his courtroom sketch pad will go viral. Are they endearing whimsies – evidence of Depp’s adorable eccentricity – or a tactic to manage his PTSD in a traumatic situation?

Otherwise, they could be further confirmation of his innocence: who eats sweets and draws pictures when they’re nervous or worried? Whatever they signify, it’s positive. Our Johnny’s the sweetest guy. Even Penelope Cruz says so.

Would Heard have received the same understanding if she’d brought a pack of Haribo to pass around the legal team during opposing testimonies? Or if she drew portraits on Post-its for the matey approval of her lawyer? Give over. She’d have been absolutely flayed on social media for disrespecting the proceedings and trivialising and undermining witness testimonies.

#RIPMeToo.

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