The Johnny Depp defamation case against Amber Heard, the latest chapter of an ongoing saga that began sometime in 2012 and might finally be nearing its end, has captivated the public. For many people, this and the Oscar slap are more dramatic and interesting than probably any film made this year. The climate of fear has essentially castrated storytellers. That has made for bland, safe, correct films and television shows, with very few exceptions. We know when a story is true it will be safe from the clutches of puritanical activists who seek to monitor art the same way the Catholics did when the Hays Code was implemented.
Disney should bring back Johnny Depp for Pirates 6, not just because he’s the only reason to even make it to begin with, but because sooner or later we have to get rid of the idea that Hollywood should be in the business of policing morality, righting the wrongs of society, or lecturing anyone on anything, least of all those who pay to see their content. There are more appropriate places to oversee cultural mores, like churches, Civil Rights organizations, social programs, and even communes, cults, and utopias. The last people who should be doing this are artists and entertainers. That was a wrong turn the industry took and now it’s time to turn back around to do what Hollywood does best: entertain, enlighten, and inspire.
Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow is an American treasure. He reinvented the character, which elevated what might have been seen as a shameless money grab based on a theme park attraction (literally) to something funny, fresh, kind of weird, and wildly entertaining. And indeed, he is beloved, still, in this country and all over the world.
I will talk about the trial, which I have been watching since it began, but first I’d like to also add that this applies to Amber Heard as well. She should not be punished by Hollywood for anything she’s done to Depp, or anything she has said in court. Again, Hollywood should not be in the business of policing morality. It is a mistake for artists or entertainers to be given that much power. They do have a job and that job is to provide a service for people watching and consuming their content. All that should matter, where both Depp and Heard are concerned, is simply this: do they generate box-office returns, do they win accolades, will they be nominated for awards or not.
The only requirement to survive this moment is to grow a thick skin and to be able to survive the 24-48 hour period of mass hysteria on Twitter where someone calls someone out and hurls them into the public square for a round of humiliation (been there). Then come the exhausting, agonizing think pieces where journalists who are hooked up to the nipple of Twitter, back up the hysteria in hopes of generating likes, RTs, and clicks. YAWN. We may be coming to the end of this regrettable cycle in American life and it can’t come soon enough.
The rest of it is up to personal preference. If you are someone who doesn’t want to see Depp as Jack Sparrow or Heard as Mera then fine, don’t buy tickets to see them. But the majority will want to see them play these roles.
Either way, and money aside, the job of artists is to make art. The job of people who produce movies is to make art, entertain, and yes, make money. That’s it. No one anointed Hollywood or the Oscars or the SAG awards or any other group to be the Oyer in Terminer as they had in Salem in 1692.
I have never watched a Pirates movie after the first one but I would definitely watch Depp in Pirates 6. I know I am not the only one. You’re probably looking at a difference of $300 million domestic and maybe $500 million globally if he is put back in the franchise. If they woke-ify it, which it appears they may be planning to do, casting Margot Robbie as the female lead, it might crack $100 mil? Might.
Disney is foolish not to hire Depp back, or to give his massive fan-base the pleasure of watching him play Sparrow once again, even if for the last time. Mostly, it would be a great way to shake all of us out of our fear paralysis as we live through the last days of the mass hysteria events of the past few years.
Okay, now let’s get to the trial, if you are at all interested in what I think.
Amber Heard did bring this on herself. Even if her lawyers did encourage her to use abuse allegations to earn a better settlement (as has been alleged), she didn’t have to go even further with the op-ed by casting herself as a domestic violence survivor and Depp as her abuser, thus seeking to destroy his image in the eyes of the public, in a deeply troubled relationship he has now laid out in all of its gory details for the public to see in order to clear his name. On one of their many recordings, Depp tells her they should just call it quits because a public fight over abuse won’t be good for either of them. But Heard seems to believe that, in the era of Me Too, there is no way they will believe him and not her.
I started out feeling bad for Amber Heard. I believed her original story that Depp had become abusive while drinking and doing drugs and had hit her more than a few times. She already had me and many others on her side prior to the trial. Once Depp testified, however, that changed. Almost overnight, many of us who watched his two-day direct testimony believed him. He had his day in court and in the court of public opinion, something most men who have been “Me Too’d” never got. That this is happening at all is a sign that the panic, though not completely over, has found more rational ground.
Johnny Depp is the same on the witness stand as he is in interviews or red carpet appearances or even in the private tape recordings of his conversations with Amber Heard. He has moments where he loses his temper but in general, he is the same guy. Amber Heard, by contrast, is completely different almost every time we hear her.
Her own voice, and her recordings are what damns her because they do not match her own testimony about what happened. She turns out to be her worst witness when it comes to proving this case.
Because Depp is suing her for defamation of character based on her Washington Post op-ed, she now has to prove that she is telling the truth when she says she is a survivor of domestic violence. In turn, he has to prove not just that she lied about him or defamed him but that she maliciously tried to ruin his career and permanently destroy his image in the public eye.
I don’t think Depp will win the legal case for $50 million. He might. If it comes down to which of the two of them the jury believes they will absolutely side with Depp. Heard’s cross-examination was a disaster for several reasons:
- If Johnny Depp wears heavy rings on every finger and she says he routinely and regularly hit her hard across the face — her fair skin would have shown marks. Bloody, swollen marks not just one or two times but always. She says she covered them up with makeup but you can’t really cover up that kind of thing with those kinds of rings and a forceful hit or slap.
- She also says he hit her early in their relationship but also says things were idyllic early in their relationship. Well, which was it? If she took pictures of him “on the nod” and she took pictures of the bruises on her face the times she did photograph herself, why didn’t she take pictures during the even more violently described altercations? She never did.
- After Heard took out a temporary restraining order against Depp, she violated it to visit him in a hotel room and begged him to hug her. He would not, now knowing she had claimed he was abusive. She says “I can’t live without you,” or something along those lines. It is not unusual for victims of domestic violence to never want to leave their spouse but that wasn’t the story she told on the stand. She told a story of her wanting to leave and him not allowing her to. Had she said, “We were in a dysfunctional relationship, we were in love, we could not stop fighting, it often became physical,” that would have been the truth. But she didn’t. In trying to defend herself she went way overboard and turned it into something that has no evidence to back it up. There is only her version of the story on the stand and her witnesses going along with that version. There is only one eyewitness to Depp striking Heard and that is Heard’s sister, Whitney. Given that $50 million is at stake here, though, what wouldn’t she say?
- If Depp was an abuser, why didn’t he isolate Heard? The opposite is true. He invited several of her close friends, and her sister, to live rent-free in the same interconnected penthouses. The level of violence she describes would have been unavoidable to observe in that circumstance. Moreover, from her therapist to her friends to her sisters to Amber Heard’s own recordings – no one would advise a woman to stay in that relationship if that level of violence was going on for that long.
- Heard describes Depp violating her with a bottle after he supposedly cut off the tip of his finger while smashing a payphone or something? Well, that would mean both of them, the bar, the floor, and the walls maybe would be covered in blood. Blood would be everywhere. Instead, Depp’s version is more believable. On a massive tirade because of a “post-nup” conversation with Depp’s lawyers that suggested Johnny was trying to exclude her from sharing his fortune, she threw two bottles at him, one of which severed his finger. They immediately called the doctor and security. Surely had he violated her with his finger severed both would be covered in blood and everyone would have seen that. Blood would have been everywhere.
- Amber is the one who has a history of violence, not Depp. She was arrested for Domestic Violence against her wife. They have both now denied that claim and called the cop a homophobe. She also apparently hit her sister. There is no history, not even a stitch, of Depp ever hitting a woman.
Amber has admitted several times on tape to physical violence.
I’m obviously not a psychologist or a lawyer but I know what an abusive relationship looks like, and I know what an abuser sounds like. Heard grew up, she has said, with an abusive father. Depp grew up, he has said, with an abusive mother. The two of them together would have been an intoxicating but toxic mix of two people who could not live with, and could not live without each other. Heard is the classic example of “anxious attachment,” meaning, she could not stand for Depp to run away from her, which he always did to avoid fights, locking himself in rooms, leaving, whatever he could do to avoid a physical confrontation.
If Heard is working out her unexpressed anger at her father, and Depp is trying to please or save his mother, then the relationship is going to be a repeat of both of their childhoods in different ways as they try to work through something as damaged individuals. Had Heard explained it that way, had she been honest about what it actually was instead of needing to paint herself as his victim, which makes no sense given the facts of their lives and this case, she would have had an easier time through all of this. But when Depp’s attorney Camille Vasquez cross-examined her, it was devastating.
Heard comes to the stand with the confidence of someone who is living in an age when women accusing men of abuse, harassment, or assault are rarely questioned. She knows that as long as she insists it happened, she will have an army of activists behind her. Why would they side with Depp? That does nothing for their cause. It only undermines it. And yet, here we are again with the thing that matters more than anything else: the truth.
There is no way Johnny Depp would bring all of this madness into the light if he wasn’t telling the truth. And by telling the truth I mean she was not a victim of domestic violence who came forward to expose the dark secrets of a powerful man. That does not appear to be the truth of their relationship. People talking about this case who haven’t watched the trial tend to generalize and say things like “both of them are crazy” or, as was said on Bill Maher’s show, “It’s like America – both sides hate each other.” But that isn’t what their relationship appears to have been, according to their own recordings. It was very much a dynamic between an abuser – emotional and physical – and a victim. It just so happens that in this case, the victim was male.
I understand that this will be upsetting for people to hear, my daring to make the case for Johnny Depp to still have a career after what he’s been accused of. Or that I think Amber Heard should still have a career after this. I don’t believe in trial by the mob. I don’t believe in whatever the #metoo movement became after it started as an important reckoning for women. It devolved into a witch hunt, where any accusation from bad dates to disgruntled ex-girlfriends could end careers.
I am making a case for there being a separation between the requirements for being a good person and the requirements for being a dazzling, charismatic movie star, as both Depp and Heard are. Why do you think so many people are watching the trial? Millions tune in when the trial is on. Clips are then reposted on YouTube. It has completely overtaken TikTok.
Unfortunately, because of our strict and getting more strict rules on casting, storytelling, and thematic content, the end goal of Hollywood now seems to be that we all need to be eternally good or aim for good at all times. In order to maintain that goodness, we have to purge the baddies from our midst. That means not even those who have shown remorse, not those who have not even been given due process.
We’ve lived through something extremely bizarre, something people will be talking about and writing about for decades to come. No society operating on this level of puritanical rule can sustain itself and also have a thriving artistic community. It’s time to put this behind us and get back to doing what Hollywood does best.