Depp v Heard: Innocent until proven guilty or a trial by social media?

A view on the media circus surrounding the Depp/Heard Trial

Rebecca Sykes
16th May 2022
A black and white photo of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard with a black bar blocking out their respective eyes.
For good or for bad, it’s hard to escape the Depp/Heard defamation case. Everyone seems to have an opinion on the televised trial centred on one of the most famous actors of a generation and the media has picked it up like a storm.

 Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean) is suing his ex-wife, Amber Heard (Aquaman), for $50 million as he’s claiming the op-ed, "I spoke up against sexual violence -- and faced our culture's wrath. That has to change.", she published in The Washington Post in 2018 clearly alludes to him. It doesn’t specifically mention his name, though Depp is arguing Heard knowingly made false claims. Heard is countersuing him for £100 million.

It’s easy to see why the trial has garnered so much attention; the trial is full of scandalous soundbites, there’s an obsessive culture over celebrities, and there’s an uncertainty over the result. Sordid details emerging from the trial include Depp writing on a wall with a severed finger and Heard pooping in their bed and blaming the dogs. It’s so sensational, I’ve caught myself reading up about it and forgetting it’s a trial that is deeply affecting people’s lives. Despite not being affected by the trial, many people are picking sides; it’s likely that in some minds the case has already been decided and will the result change their minds? Will the result of the Depp/Heard case actually matter in the court of public opinion?

Depp appears to have a lot of support and respect after his testimony which gave detailed accounts of the relationship, its' breakdown and alleged Heard as the abuser. There’s been fans queuing to see him entering the courtroom, and although there is supposed to be no audible or visible reaction inside the courtroom, that cannot be said for anywhere else. Whether knowingly or not, Depp has a stan culture surrounding him on the Internet that are arguing his innocence. This is despite him losing a defamation case in 2020 where he sued The Sun over a headline calling him a “wife-beater”. Does public opinion necessarily care about the verdict? Or is it, for supporters of Depp, innocent until proven innocent without the option of guilty?

Heard has recently taken the stand and, despite an emotional testimony detailing emotional, sexual, and physical abuse, public opinion seems to be split. Shockingly (or not considering the events of the trial), there’s been reactions that Heard is over-acting and not behaving like a victim. (Generally, it's appeared that Depp has not been treated the same way during his testimony.) Regardless of the outcome, there is no right way for a victim to behave and comments regarding victimhood are dangerous. She is yet to be cross-examined and if she’s asked, ‘why didn’t you say no?’, I think people should be angry.

There’s more to comment about the trial, but it’s that very invasion of privacy and fascination with sordid details that’s the problem. As the public, we should not be judge, jury and executioner. It should be ‘innocent until proven guilty’ for Depp and Heard, but the trial is so sensationalised and dramatic that they sadly do not have that right. For good or for bad, everyone has an opinion and wants to let everyone know it.

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