Johnny Depp testifies during his defamation trial in the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Virginia, on April 19, 2022. (Photo by JIM WATSON / POOL / AFP via Getty Images)
During Johnny Depp’s cross-examination in a Virginia courtroom Thursday, the lawyer leading the interrogation read yet another text the Oscar-nominated actor had sent about his former wife, Amber Heard: “Hopefully that cunt’s rotting corpse is decomposing in the fucking trunk of a honda civic.”
YouTube comments immediately lit up the trial’s livestream chat, with viewers laughing at the message. “LOL Honda Civic,” said one.
Most of these comments have been pro-Johnny Depp—with viewers repeating “Justice for Johnny Depp” and “Free Johnny”—or overtly anti-Amber Heard.
The two actors are currently in court because Depp launched a defamation suit against Heard for $50 million in response to a 2018 Washington Post op-ed that Heard wrote about her experiences with domestic abuse. While Heard didn’t name Depp in her piece, Depp’s team maintains that it was about him and thus cost Depp his career. Heard has since filed a counterclaim for $100 million in damages, which the jury will also consider. Both deny allegations of abuse.
The case is still going on and a verdict is likely still weeks away. But many viewers have already decided that Depp is the real victim. “I want to hug him and tell him everything will be okay,” one TikTok caption reads. It’s a situation that undermines how abuse really plays out, said Farrah Khan, a gender justice advocate. It also, Khan told VICE News, has the potential to scare victims and survivors of abuse from speaking out because they fear backlash similar to what Heard is getting right now.
Comments on the livestream of the trial refer to Heard as a “monster” and a “Karen.” Viewers, many anonymous, accuse her of being “manipulative, calculating, and quite possibly a con artist,” as well as “fake crying” in the courtroom and of looking “smug.” Others poke fun at her hair and courtroom clothes, and call her “bipolar.”
The comments aren’t just on YouTube or during the live streams either; they’re all over Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok, where memes and hashtags refer to her as a “liar,” “gold digger,” and “Amber Turd.”
“He could have killed you, he had every right,” one viral TikTok says.
In one disgruntled email with the subject line “Amber Turd,” sent to VICE News’ tip line, a reader called Heard a “crazy bitch” and said, “Because she has a vagina and Depp has a dick, the woman must be right. bElIEvE aLl wOmEN!”
“We need to talk about the fact that people are quicker to say she’s a liar and he is a victim than they are to believe women,” Khan said. “People are relishing her demise.”
Even makeup brand Milani chimed in after Heard’s lawyer said the actress used Milani concealer to cover up bruises allegedly caused by Depp. In a TikTok viewed 4.7 million times, the company showed that the product in question launched in 2017—a year after Depp and Heard divorced.
“I’ve never seen [a cosmetics company] talk about domestic violence and talk about it in this way,” Khan said. “The one time they are, it’s behind a man who is very powerful, older, and well-established in his career.”
Heard was in her 20s when she met Depp, 58, a significantly older, and successful, man in Hollywood. But their innate power imbalance hasn’t widely resonated: Depp fans instead have held up the actor as proof that men, too, can be victims of abuse. But experts concerned with the hateful social media reactions targeting Heard aren’t denying that men can be victims.
“This isn’t about denying the fact that men can be harmed, and there are things coming out in this case that speak to [Heard] doing things that aren’t OK in a relationship,” Khan said. “It is interesting to me that in this conversation, there’s a complete erasure of other parts coming up and it’s this pile-on … Why does it have to be pro–Johnny Depp or pro–Amber Heard?”
A previous case already concluded that Depp likely did assault Heard after Depp sued UK-based News Group Newspapers and the Sun’s executive editor, Dan Wootton, for libel because the paper referred to Depp as a “wife-beater.” Depp lost the case in 2020 after a UK court ruled that the tabloids’ claims were “substantially true.” At the time, Depp and Heard accused each other of engaging in sophisticated PR campaigns, with Heard alleging that Depp relied on bots and insidious social media accounts to slander her.
Back in 2020, lawyer Mark Stephens, a commentator who spoke with the Guardian, said he received a barrage of “angry messages” after simply speaking to the “sordid nature of the case.”
“I’ve seen some high-profile cases, but I have never seen a response like this,” Stephens told the Guardian. “There are so many vested interests, people that have a dog in the fight, on Depp’s side, that the campaigning online has felt one-sided.”
It certainly seems like a double standard, where Depp gets a free pass even after his history of threatening text messages surfaced in court—“I will fuck her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she’s dead,” for example.
“The fact that he felt comfortable saying this on text—what was he saying to her face?” Khan said.
Depp’s past correspondences with Heard, her family, and his friends also reveal a man struggling with addictions, who acknowledged that substance abuse had an impact on their relationship and has been at times remorseful.
“I see lots of ‘He is an artist, he is eccentric, he had an alcohol and drug problem,’” said Khan. “We make space for people who have trauma and people who may be using things to cope … Yet for Heard, she’s a ‘whore,’ she’s the worst of all these things,” Khan said. “This is why so many people don’t report abuse.”
According to Khan, people too often require survivors of abuse to be the “perfect victim,” a mold that Heard isn’t fitting.
“We have this idea that the victims will never retaliate,” Khan said. “They’ll take the blows and will never say anything back… You’re expected to document the blows, but not in a way that makes it look like you were misleading anyone. You’re expected to take the blows and not fight back—but protect yourself enough so you can report it.”
The “ideal victim” also tends to be a white, cis, heterosexual woman who has only been with their husband,” Khan added. “A dutiful wife.”
According to Khan, Heard’s bisexuality has also been repeatedly weaponized. The Aquaman star has been accused of infidelity and promiscuity throughout her marriage to Depp.
The problem with much of the narrative playing out online, Khan said, is that it fails to grasp nuance, and could result in less reporting going forward. Domestic abuse can also have serious results: In the U.S. alone, more than half of homicides targeting women between 2003 and 2014 were committed by romantic partners—often inspired by jealousy—whereas only 5-7 percent of men who were killed were killed by their partners.
Heard’s defamation trial continues this week.