Domestic abuse, fickleness of public opinion, and eloquent lies pervaded the courtroom throughout the infamous publicly-aired Depp-Heard trial, which dominated the internet for weeks and set in motion various online movements. However, in reality, the full story of the relationship that ended so disastrously and openly so is known to few. The story in question started with a decades-old novel, good ol’ whiskey, and a Puerto Rican movie set.
Johnny Depp, whilst rifling through the manuscripts of his late friend Hunter S. Thompson, found one for the unpublished novel The Rum Diary. The romantic comedy was an instant hit for Depp, and with him as the lead, the filmmaking commenced under the guidance of Bruce Robinson. The pair is said to have auditioned a multitude of actresses for the role of Chenault, the movie’s femme fatale, but ultimately found her in Amber Heard, an up-and-coming artiste. The chemistry between Depp and Heard was instant and electrifying. Both actors testify to that and hence began a romantic relationship a few years later. The almost 23-year age gap was not missed by the couple, and Depp described her as a "beautiful creature" whilst calling himself an "old, craggy fogey". Despite them being very much in love at the time, close family and friends stated that the relationship was tumultuous from the beginning.
Amber and Johnny tied the knot on a private island in the Caribbean in 2015, after a rather flashy announcement of their engagement when the actress walked the 2014 Cannes red carpet with a ring big enough to have sunk the Titanic. The couple seemed destined for a fate similar to that of the "unsinkable ship" when Johnny was overheard telling his best man, “Now I can punch her”, as they walked to the reception that followed the exchange of vows.
The now infamous accident involving a vodka bottle and Depp’s severed fingertip occurred not much later. The newlyweds resided in a rental home in Australia during the filming of the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie and both claim that the middle finger of Johnny’s right hand was cut off by the other. Hours of testimony give two points of view: Amber stated that Johnny was enraged and in his fit, he not only cut himself but also sexually assaulted her with a vodka bottle, whereas Depp claimed that his new wife threw the alcohol bottles at him in anger, resulting in a bloody finger. They both agree that Johnny used this severed finger to tag several bloody and cryptic messages on the furniture and walls of their house.
The bizarre incidents did not stop here, however. In 2016, Depp says that he found fecal matter on his and Heard’s marital bed, and the latter blamed it on their two “teacup” yorkshires named Pistol and Boo. Johnny found this situation to be quite hilarious and Heard denied any involvement in the situation, but a guard of Depp’s heard Amber call it “a horrible practical joke gone wrong”. Depp’s former paramour, model Kate Moss, and actor Ellen Barkin, testified and the precursory put an end to any claims of him abusing her during their relationship but Barkin did state that she once saw Johnny throw a bottle of wine across the room. Other famous personalities such as Elon Musk and James Franco, who are said to have had extramarital affairs with Heard, were set to appear by her side but did not end up testifying.
Just 15 months after the wedding, on May 23, 2016, Amber Heard filed for divorce on accounts of domestic violence and obtained a temporary restraining order against Depp. He retaliated by saying that Amber sought “to secure a premature financial resolution by alleging abuse." However, a settlement was reached once the divorce was finalized, and Heard rescinded the spousal support request of $50,000 a month. Depp paid her around $8 million to settle, which Heard pledged to charity, according to People Magazine. The couple released a joint statement that read, "Our relationship was intensely passionate and at times volatile, but always bound by love. Neither party has made false accusations for financial gain."
It was added that there was no intent of emotional or physical harm in the relationship. However, in 2018, at the height of the #MeToo movement, Amber Heard published a subjectively denigrating op-ed in The Washington Post, where she spoke out against domestic abuse and Johnny Depp, who, although never mentioned by name, was insinuated to be the abuser. The situation occurred at a particularly eruptive time as well, when famous tyrants of Hollywood, such as Harvey Weinstein, were being put behind bars for their crimes.
Depp’s long-successful and still-growing career hit the iceberg when, in response to this article, he was dropped from some of his most famous acting roles, such as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean. This set back the actor’s vocational gain significantly, and he sued his ex-wife, putting forth a lawsuit of $50 million against the WaPo op-ed. He stated that her article had cost him around the dominion of $40 million in earnings, and Heard, returning fire after failing to dismiss the case, counter-sued Depp with a lawsuit of $100 million. She called it a "frivolous" lawsuit, and her ex-husband claimed that he had been falsely accused of abuse, saying that Amber's allegations were an "elaborate hoax to generate positive publicity."
"My goal is the truth because it killed me, that all these people I had met over the years... that these people would think I was a fraud."
- Johnny Depp
In 2020, the Sun, a UK-based tabloid, proclaimed Depp to be a "wife-beater" and stood by their decision even after the actor dismissed the claim. He proceeded to sue the newspaper but lost the libel case in the UK, and to further the damage, was dropped from his role in the Fantastic Beasts franchise. However, this ruling across the pond did not affect the one made at the Fairfax County Courthouse in Virginia, and so the infamous lawsuit continued without a hitch.
Depp and Heard were represented by Ben Chew and Elaine Bredehoft, both prestigious lawyers, and their teams, respectively. The month-long trial gave rise to gigantic waves on the internet, with Depp discussing childhood abuse and drug addiction and refuting claims of his maltreating his ex-wife. The ex-partner in question remained obstinate and stuck to her guns about being the victim of manhandling and death threats at the hands of Depp. At any rate, the case went through many ups and downs and was a soap opera for the internet to comment on, just as Chew had predicted. The verdict proved to be in the favor of the Court of Public Opinion and Depp won the case, receiving $15 million in compensatory and punitive damages, and Heard getting one of $2 million for a countersuit against one of Depp’s lawyers, Adam Waldman.
Understandably, at the heart of this case was the simple misuse of the media. Amber Heard, who seemed to be flustered and indecisive about most of her statements in court, became Public Enemy No. 1 for allegedly abusing a beloved actor and public figure. The trial brought forth an onslaught of misogyny and a mass of people ignorant of it, leading to Heard being called a myriad of names for committing a crime that thousands of men do daily and getting off practically scot-free. It was due to the volatility of the case, the money involved and the victim being an adored figure of Hollywood, that Amber’s head was bitten off in a situation that if reversed, would have had slim to no consequence on the internet. However, Depp was just as swiftly canceled when Heard published false allegations in a popular magazine.
It is important to note that neither party is wholly innocent or guilty in a situation where emotions are involved. It is the lack of pattern that has been recognized when it comes to human nature that is discombobulating and the real story, in my humble opinion, is not known to us and just as well may never be, but the internet has formed such a staunch opinion of the circumstance that it is difficult to look beyond the haze of social media. The finale of this saga, however, ended with a few things: a framed man, a sore loser, and a societal divide.