I’ve spent several years now studiously avoiding learning anything about the ongoing battle between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, but as an avid user of social media I find that it has finally become completely and utterly unavoidable.
This is thanks, in part, to the heroic efforts of far right media sources like the Daily Caller, who spent $35,000 to $47,000 buying ads on Facebook and Instagram pushing the idea that Amber Heard is committing “character assassination” by stating that Johnny Depp physically and verbally abused her throughout several years of their relationship.
While I can easily ignore Facebook ads from batshit conservatives, and even hundreds of posts all over Reddit, it’s harder when people I actually follow are talking about it. And it’s difficult seeing “progressive” influencers on Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, and elsewhere pile on with the absolutely terrible takes. Like, seriously, who could have guessed that Lance Bass was going to go hog wild mocking a woman who says her husband abused her?
But the thing that finally convinced me to talk about all this was a video YouTube recommended I watch from creator Kiana Docherty called “What About Amber Heard Seems So Fake?” As of this recording, that video has 64,000 views and more than 5,000 likes. And it represents so much of what is wrong with people’s reaction to this trial: it’s pseudoscientific, and it completely ignores the misogynistic society that we live in. Let’s talk about it.
First, a brief overview of the trial: back in 2018, Amber Heard wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post in which she described herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.” The article does not mention Johnny Depp or any description of the abuse. Regardless, Depp sued Heard for $50 million claiming this was defamation. Heard countersued for $100 million.
It’s not the first time Depp has sued someone for calling him an abuser: in 2020, he sued the UK tabloid The Sun for writing that Depp had abused Heard on 14 occasions. The UK is notoriously bad with libel cases, making it very easy for someone to launch one and very difficult for the defendant to prove their innocence. However, in this case the judge ruled in favor of The Sun, confirming that 12 of the 14 incidences of abuse were true. They were as follows (content warning, obviously):
In early 2013, Depp slapped Heard so hard she fell to the ground
In March of 2013, Depp hit Heard and gave her a bloody lip
In June of 2013, Depp threw glasses at Heard and ripped her dress
In May of 2014, Depp screamed at Heard and kicked her in the back
In 2014, Depp grabbed Heard by the hair, slapped her, and pushed her to the ground
In January of 2015, Depp slapped Heard and pushed her to the ground before standing over her and yelling
In March of 2015, Depp gave Heard a broken lip, swollen nose, and cuts all over her body. He also pushed her to the ground, choked her, and spit in her face
In March of 2015, Depp grabbed Heard and hit her in front of her sister
In August of 2015, Depp grabbed Heard by the throat and pushed her into a wall
In December of 2015, Depp threw a glass decanter at Heard, slapped her, and dragged her through the apartment by her hair before hitting her in the back of the head and headbutting her in the face (which he admitted to in a voice recording but claimed in the trial that it was an accident). He then pushed her face into a mattress and repeatedly punched her
In April of 2016, Depp assaulted Heard at her birthday party
And in May of 2016, Depp threw a phone at Heard’s face.
The judge found that he was unable to verify two additional accusations of abuse (Depp becoming “violent towards” Heard in 2014 and throwing her around the room in 2015), but decided that the 12 that he could substantiate were enough to rule in favor of The Sun calling Depp a “wife beater.”
Does that judge’s ruling mean that those incidents happened exactly as Heard reported? No. Judges make mistakes all the time. But I share that ruling here now because, and this is very important: that judge had far more information available to him than you, me, or random Pirates of the Caribbean fans on TikTok, so it’s worth bearing in mind.
Depp denies committing any abuse, and in his favor he has a voice recording of Heard admitting to hitting him and saying that no one will believe him.
It’s that recording that has led to the standard “moderate” take, which is that both of these people are abusers who abused one another. Which, if true, means that Depp should lose his defamation case in the US, since abusing an abuser is still, well, abuse. That said, many domestic violence experts point out that in cases where one person is terrorized by an intimate partner, it’s common for them to try fighting back, to turn those abusive tactics back on their abuser. Is that what happened here? I don’t know. I’m not an expert, and I’m not involved in this case, and it would be, frankly, immoral of me to weigh in as though I am.
Which brings me back to Kiana Docherty. On its face, her video appears to be an objective examination of why “we” think Amber Heard is lying about Johnny Depp abusing her. She doesn’t come out and say Amber Heard IS lying – that would be wrong! Instead, she spends 15 minutes detailing all the things Amber Heard does that make us THINK she’s lying, using scientific jargon to suggest that our gut instinct is likely correct: yep, she’s lying, and Johnny Depp is telling the truth.
I’ll include a link to Docherty’s video if you’d like to watch it but here’s a brief overview of her case against Heard:
She “milks the red carpet more than any celebrity” Docherty has ever seen, which…I mean, Bjork wore an actual swan on a red carpet once but okay.
She has “Attention seeking behavior,” which…does Johnny Depp not have that? Does any professional actor not have that?
Heard “Seems to constantly look to the jury for validation,” or perhaps she knows that making eye contact engenders trust, whatever!
She lacks “authenticity”
She’s a “completely different person” in every clip that Docherty cherrypicks: she’s very sweet in 2012 (when she was 26) and “aggressive” in clips from 2008 (when she was 22).
She poses when answering questions on a red carpet, like actors never do.
She does “Impression management” putting on a mask to make people like you more
She “rarely” owns up to unflattering moments
She seems so different in the recordings Depp made of her while they were fighting
Her outfits are meant to convey respectability but if feels like a costume while
Johnny’s outfits feel authentic, like wearing sunglasses inside. He is “The essence of authenticity.”
Okay fucking seriously? This is so completely unhinged that I can’t believe Docherty sat down and said this with a straight face in front of a camera. How does a grown-ass woman in the year of our lord 2022 not realize that women are judged FAR more harshly than men for how they present themselves?? She’s wearing a fucking fitted black suit. If she showed up in sunglasses, a crop top, and a wide-brimmed hat would you be talking about how authentic she is or would you accuse her of not taking this seriously? Later on, Docherty has the complete lack of self-awareness to laud Depp for smirking and chuckling throughout the trial because that’s “real emotion,” but if Heard did that she would have excoriated her. It’s such an obvious double-standard that I’m honestly just shocked Docherty didn’t notice throughout the process of writing a script, recording the video, editing it, and posting. Remember that video I made last year about “Zoom Fatigue,” with a study finding that just being on camera on a Zoom call was more tiring for women because they are forced to spend extra time and energy policing their own appearance since they know they’ll be judged more harshly as their coworkers start with the bias that they are less competent than their male peers? Yeah. This isn’t some big secret: women and Black, indigenous, and people of color are all playing a no-win game when it comes to how society perceives them.
Moving on, she credits Depp with presenting the same personality going back 20 years. Why doesn’t Amber Heard do that? Probably because she wasn’t on the Ellen show when she was 14. She was too busy helping out in soup kitchens before school.
She claims Heard has “Ulterior motives” and plays a clip of Heard admitting she hasn’t donated the money from her divorce as she said she would (though the ACLU confirmed that they had established a timeline for her to do so and that they received a million dollars before she was sued by Depp, which she says sucked away all the money).
She plays a clip of Heard visiting a Syrian refugee camp and says the “authenticity of her actions are up for debate” now that we know more about her behavior (but she doesn’t explain what behavior that is, exactly…literally the only bad “action” she’s mentioned in this video is not donating a million dollars to charity).
She mocks her for being inarticulate when describing how touched she was by her visit to the camp, playing the Final Jeopardy song under her rambling response. Two issues here: one, not everyone is articulate when speaking off the cuff – even famous actors. It doesn’t make them liars. Second, this is cherry-picking. She could have played the clip of Heard on stage at the Social Good Summit in 2018 where she describes how fulfilling she’s found her work with Amnesty International and the UN Human Rights Office.
*Hey guys, post-production Rebecca here: I just had to point out something I missed when I first watched the clip I’m about to play for you but this is from four years ago and I just wanted to note that Amber Heard appears to be wearing the EXACT SAME SUIT that Docherty points out made Heard “inauthentic” to wear in court. She literally pulled a suit out of her existing wardrobe that she’s been wearing at events for at least four years. Inauthentic. Incredible. Anyway, on to the clip!
Fun thing to do, go read the comments on that video. It’s a cesspit with misogynistic comments going back years. Because Amber Heard had the audacity to take the stage to bring attention to Syrian refugees having trouble accessing adequate medical care.
Docherty admits that despite all these, um, objective points against her, Amber Heard MIGHT be telling the truth but she doubles down on her opinion that Amber Heard is, in fact, inauthentic, which validates the outrage people feel toward her. It’s strange that she spent 15 minutes validating that outrage but at no point does she note that people are, in fact, really fucking bad at identifying authenticity in others.
In fact, just this month researchers at Columbia University published a paper describing three studies comprising more than 1,000 subjects total, and they found “no evidence that people can accurately identify who is authentic.” They point out that people feel authenticity is extremely important in others, to the point that they do in fact use it “as a criterion for conferring status, societal value, and morality judgments,” and while they “assume they can discern authenticity in others,” they actually SUCK at it.
It’s pathetic that Docherty completely missed the point of why social media hates Amber Heard. Yes, people DO think she’s inauthentic. But it’s not because of the way she dresses, the eye contact she makes with the jury, or the fact that she offers reasons for why she’s behaved poorly in the past. It’s because the female victim of domestic violence will always be seen first as a liar, as an exaggerator, as an imperfect person who deserved it somehow. It happened to Anita Hill in 1991 when she testified that Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her. It happened to Christine Blasey Ford in 2018 when she testified that Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her. And how fucked up is it that the first two prominent examples I thought of involved men who went on to be on the current Supreme Court?
Every day women’s stories of violence, sexual assault, and harassment are discounted and thrown away. Hell, it even happened to me when I described a totally commonplace, low-stakes story of a man’s clumsy attempt at a pass, and I was accused of exaggerating, of lying, of ruining a man’s life who I didn’t even name, and then I got death threats for ten years. Let me tell you, it’s not fun to speak openly about the bad behavior of men towards women.
Is it possible Amber Heard is lying about being a victim of domestic violence? Sure, anything is possible, though it would require her to have spent several years fabricating texts and photos and convincing bystanders to lie about a dozen incidents. And is it possible that she also abused Johnny Depp? Absolutely. Women can and do enact mental and physical violence upon their male partners, and often those men are mocked and discouraged from coming forward, which is disgusting.
The fact is that all of us here in the peanut gallery are operating with incomplete information. That means that if we’re going to comment upon the case, we have to be very, very careful to understand what narrative we’re feeding. If you’re going to prop up the idea that, say, men can’t be abused? Or that libel lawsuits are a good way to deal with someone writing about their own trauma? Or that we can tell a woman is lying about domestic violence because of the clothes she wears or the way she acts? Maybe just consider shutting the fuck up instead. It’s free!