Amber Heard and the end of #MeToo?
Let's examine the facts.
TW: Domestic violence and abuse
Welcome to this week’s current fixation: Amber Heard and Johnny Depp’s defamation trial, which is somehow still ongoing. I must admit—over the past few weeks, I subconsciously started to side with Johnny Depp, based purely on the internet headlines and commentary that I saw online. But that quickly ended when I dug a bit deeper into what’s actually happening in the he said, she said trial of the decade.
If you haven’t been keeping up, here’s what to know about the evolution of the case so far:
According to Vox, the purpose of this trial really amounts to “a simple yes/no question over whether Heard had the right to call herself a victim of domestic abuse” in a single sentence from a 2018 opinion piece that she wrote and was published in The Washington Post.
The narrative of the trial has been shaped in part by what appears to be an army of bots that spread rhetoric favorable to Johnny Depp. Conservative media outlets have also promoted a one-sided narrative of the trial, in some cases spending thousands of dollars to promote anti-Amber Heard propaganda.
If Depp somehow wins this case, we can expect similar lawsuits against other people who say they’ve survived abuse.
As I’ve researched the case more, it’s become clear that we’re in the midst of a public and fast-moving shift away from #MeToo and “believe women” narratives. Obviously, we had to ask the Diem community about their thoughts. The responses we got were just as confused, complicated, and nuanced as we expected. Let’s dive into some of them 👇
“I’m typically in the believe women camp but for some reason, this one confused me?”
Us too. So we looked into it. Last week, we touched on the increasing presence of the “manosphere,” a reality that definitely impacts our perception of the Heard/Depp case. According to researchers, bots and “men’s rights activists” have decided that destroying Amber Heard is their path to shutting down every other domestic abuse accusation. This isn’t just true of the most recent case, it has been true throughout the couple’s divorce and prior defamation hearings. Analysts pointed out that there were 340 “inauthentic” Twitter accounts devoted to defaming Heard and amplifying petitions that called for her to be fired from acting and modeling gigs, with researchers pointing out that only a small number of accounts can drive the entire online discourse. This case brings to the forefront how quickly misinformation can now shape public perception—with many people now truly believing that Heard harmed herself in pursuit of fame and money.
“While there may well have been mutual abuse, admitting to the fact there was any abuse at all surely resolves this?”
This excellent piece in the New York Times points to the fact that many domestic violence experts consider mutual abuse a myth. This means that while partners can both be toxic, there’s usually always one partner that holds more power in the relationship. So here’s the thing: Even if you believe Heard behaved terribly in her and Depp’s relationship, the idea of her being the “primary aggressor” against a physically larger and much more financially powerful man is pretty hard to believe. In this case, there are publicly available recordings and videos of Depp lashing out, mocking Heard for being “authoritative,” and much worse.
Okay, here’s another interesting point raised in Diem:
“What do you all think about Johnny Depp’s lawyer who has been grilling Amber Heard? I read that it’s common to bring in women lawyers when a man has been accused of domestic abuse.”
This one got us thinking. The scale of positive support for Depp online can be seen in the spill of positive support for his (female) lawyer, Camille Vasquez. Female lawyers who defend men accused of domestic abuse are usually slaughtered online, but in this scenario, the praise Vasquez is receiving is a signal of how much support there is for Depp. On TikTok alone, there are over 12 billion views under the hashtag #justiceforjohnnydepp and Depp fans are praising Vasquez for her cross examinations of Heard. “People always want to love Johnny Depp,” said Juda Engelmayer (Weinstein’s spokesperson) in an interview. “He has been around for 35 years. If he is supporting someone, these people want to support him.”
But what does this all mean for the future of domestic abuse cases? We’ve already seen other famous men like Marilyn Manson file defamation suits against their accusers. If a court has already ruled on the validity of an accusation (reminder: Depp lost his case against Heard in the UK)—yet the power of the internet can shape public perception to make us all question it—what does this mean for the future of public belief in the legal system?
There’s a lot more to be dissected here but for today we’ll end on one Diemer’s contribution to the conversation.
“I’m super conscious as a lot of media is still filtered through the typical lens of of patriarchy, yes any abuse is wrong but also we never believe women, in general we doubt women in a way we don’t doubt men and i feel this applies [...] i don’t think it’s a fair fight because history is on Depp’s side.”
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