Opinion: The Johnny Depp V. Amber Heard Case Should Not Have Been Televised



Photo illustration by James Lang, photos courtesy of Cosmopolitan (Johnny Depp on left) and Independent (Amber Heard on right).

On June 1, after six weeks of court proceedings, Johnny Depp won his defamation case against Amber Heard, who accused him of multiple incidents of domestic and sexual abuse. The trial, which was broadcasted online for the public to see, was a sweeping cultural phenomenon and brings to light many concerns about preemptive legal and social judgment moving forward.

Since the rise of the #MeToo movement, there’s been a debate in the role of social media in determining fault. On one hand, it’s great that victims of sexual abuse can speak out and be heard, and we’ve noticed a steep rise in accountability for high standing public figures. Previously “untouchable” celebrities, such as Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein, have faced severe consequences for their inappropriate actions over the years, as they should have from the very beginning. 

Thumbnails of viral videos from Youtube.com that were released around the time of the trial. (James Lang/ISLAND WAVES)

On the other hand, the rise of the “Believe Women” movement in recent years has created concerns about believing false accusations, and as a result prosecuting those who do not deserve such prosecutions. This has created a backfire effect, in which many choose to wipe accusations under the rug as artifacts of “cancel culture,” instead of as legitimate claims.

Then comes the Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard case, which is the climax of a nearly decade long celebrity relationship. Depp initially sued The Sun, not Heard, in 2018 for claiming he was a “wife beater” based on the claims Heard had made. He lost in the U.K. courts twice; first during the original trial and second in the attempted appeal. It was already an uphill battle to win in the U.S. when he filed to sue Heard directly in 2019, and yet he still won.

But here’s the kicker, so did Heard. Depp won $10 Million in compensatory damages, and Heard won $2 Million. And let’s not forget that the U.K. courts decided that there was enough evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that Johnny Depp was not innocent in any of this. But people won’t remember that.

I think it’s clear, after this circus of a trial, that Amber Heard was indeed an abuser in the relationship, but it’s not black and white. The entire relationship was a mess and both parties contributed to the toxicity.

Jacob Sazon

Heard’s attorney, Elaine Bredehoft, was not wrong when she said that the results of this case were a major setback for women. Although this was a civil case and does not set any judicial precedent, it does set a precedent for the court of public opinion. Now, any time a woman comes forward with claims of sexual assault or abuse, people have this case to point to as proof that she could be lying. Depp had to go through the court system three times, so people won’t even accept a court’s decision because they could be wrong.

So there are two sides to this coin. The public was too quick to side with Amber Heard when she came forward with false accusations, but the public was also too quick to side with Johnny Depp in this lawsuit. The end conclusion is that the court of public opinion is not a fair and just court by any means. 

Yet, this entire lawsuit was on public display. There were livestreams on sites like Youtube and Twitch with people live reacting to the court proceedings with tens of thousands of audience members. Social media sites like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook had a field day with the amount of memes created and dispersed around the events of the trial.

This was not a civil lawsuit, this was a TV show with a new episode that aired daily. Every good TV show needs a hero and a villain, so audience members picked one and rooted for them all the way to the season finale.

My question, in response to this, is should we even have court cases be on public display? And, how do we deal with social media’s contributions to these trials moving forward? Because they’re not going away any time soon.

After the verdict, Depp made a post on Instagram thanking everyone for their support. Near the end of the letter, he says, “I also hope that the position will now return to innocent until proven guilty, both within the courts and in the media.”

An ironic statement, considering the public had already decided who won before the case barely got off the ground. The jury’s decision didn’t even matter by the end; the people had made up their mind. That’s far from innocent until proven guilty. 

That’s guilty until proven otherwise.