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Johnny Depp and Amber Heard- The Advancement or Abuse of Feminist Movement?

Katherine Ashley Chen and Sarah Park

Feb 28, 2021

Former lovers Johnny Depp and Amber Heard have been wrapped in a seemingly perpetual cycle of egregious allegations, unable to disentangle themselves from one of the most tumultuous legal battles in this decade. The pair met on the set of "The Rum Diary" in 2009 and initially seemed compatible— perhaps even on the way to becoming one of Hollywood's most powerful couples, akin to the Paul Simon and Carrie Fisher of the '80s or Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston of the '00s. But problems began to arise even in their initial days—right at the onset of their correspondence, Heard referred to her relationship as "torture" but still described it as "better than [she] ever imagined." Nonetheless, the couple got married in 2015, five years after they began dating, but within just one year, Heard filed for a divorce and restraining order—a detonation that triggered the divulgence of countless scandalous details in a domino-like effect. Here is the timeline of their relationship, and why it's relevant outside the sphere of frivolous tabloids.

In 2018, Heard composed an op-ed for the Washington Post, asserting that she was a victim of domestic abuse. While she didn't directly implicate Depp or formally state his name, it was evident that he was the perpetrator of whom she referred to, due to their extremely publicized divorce proceedings. Depp subsequently responded with a $50 million defamation suit, which is still ongoing today. Many news outlets and tabloids rallied behind Heard, describing Depp as a "wife-beater" and "the Monster", though the accuracy of these allegations was still up for debate.

The relative consensus among the media industry seemed to be that Depp was a categorical perpetrator, and as the #MeToo movement gained traction in 2017, Heard procured ever-growing support. Heard's perspective of the ensuing drama was plastered ubiquitously across the media, and it seemed more and more inconceivable that she would be involved in any wrongdoing. In January 2020, however, phone recordings leaked by Depp appeared to finally incriminate Heard, splattering her image of the immaculate white angel. In the tapes, Heard admitted to sometimes "get[ting] so mad she loses it" and proceeded to say that she couldn't promise Depp it wouldn't get "physical" again. "I don't know what the motion of my actual hand was, but you're fine, I did not hurt you, I did not punch you, I was hitting you." Heard cried, "God, I f---ing sometimes get so mad I lose it."

Amidst the various accusations that continued to persist and accumulate into a whirlwind of drama, the High Court ruled in opposition to Depp in his high-profile libel case against a British tabloid network that called him a "wife beater". Days later, Depp was asked to resign from his role as Grindewald from the 'Fantastic Beasts Three'. Around this time, new facts emerged from the case between Heard and Depp that seemed to absolve him from blame. The media's tone regarding the Depp-Heard saga started shifting, with more and more people questioning Heard's previous assertions and empathizing with Depp. Social media users began congregating on Instagram and Twitter platforms to protest against the Court's ruling against Depp. The #JusticeForJohnny hashtags, petitions, and posts trended and became hugely popular, but the Court still moved to deny Depp an appeal, shattering his hopes of ever overturning the libel ruling.

Throughout the recurring drama, Depp's career in acting was stripped down, pulled apart limb by limb as accusations rained down upon him. Along with the destruction of his career, his personal struggles against substance abuse and emotional management were once again brought to the media's surface, reopening wounds before they had even been allowed to seal. Yet Depp's famous role as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean, an all-time childhood classic, and other eccentric characters perhaps still exert certain sentimental influence over the public.

On the other hand, much of society continue to herald Heard as a leading figure in the #MeToo era of feminism. Recently, she was named a "Human Rights Champion" by the United Nations, who cited her work in gender equality activism. Today, Heard is not merely known as an accomplished actress, but also as an outspoken advocate for social justice issues, including work in the Syrian American Medical Society and the American Civil Liberties Union. Ultimately, Heard is viewed as the victim of the situation, and she will soon receive $100 million in damages from her countersuit against Depp. Even upon the revelations of tangible evidence that decimate her accusations, in the public eye, Heard remains to be seen as somewhat of a martyr—a hero who has broken the barriers of silence.

Countless women are undeniably forced to suffer under harassment and assault, battling immeasurable pain and distress. The vast majority of sexual assault and domestic abuse allegations undoubtedly stem from these women—women who, needless to say, deserve reparations for damage inflicted upon them, to whom both emotional and tangible payment is long overdue. Conversely, women who abuse the latest tendency in finally believing the story of victims strike the most deadly blows against gender equality and female empowerment. The few false stories that are brought to light affront the awareness movement more than all else, and fortify the ignorant argument made against feminism and #MeToo.

The troubled Depp-Heard relationship characterizes the contentious arguments pervasive in topics surrounding the feminist debate. In many cases, perpetrators of assault and abuse are under-retributed for the crimes they have committed against others. But, as with all allegations, there are also times in which false stories are fabricated and so-called victims capitalize upon recent activism in order to attract media attention and monetary gain. It is difficult to draw a definite line between hearsay and ignorance in such cases, especially with no hard proof and, in the Depp-Heard case, the potential loss of two extremely successful reputations and careers.

Society must be cautious in opinion-forming to avoid admonishing the progress achieved by the feminist movement, especially when such huge stakes lie in the balance. The existence of false narratives is self-explanatory, and the consequences of the wrongfully accused party can be enormously detrimental. On the other hand, it is foolish to avoid recognizing positions of power that often shield perpetrators from their crimes, and far more astute to understand that in most cases, victims of assault and abuse are stifled and suppressed, questioned, doubted, and mistrusted at every word. Victims often have little to gain from accusations, apart from shame and hate. Perpetrators, on the other hand, have everything to lose. We must realize the likelihood of false narratives, but keep in mind the achingly colossal magnitude of victims' pain. It is always better to listen to the victim who has less to gain, but it is naive—perhaps even moronic to listen blindly.


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