ABOVE OR BENEATH SEA LEVEL
A tale of two seas(Caribbean vs Atlantis)
Very few trials have been as publicized as the Johnny Depp versus Amber Heard defamation trial. It had all that followed the judicial process glued to their screens, eagerly awaiting the jury’s verdict like it was the grand finale of their favorite TV show. Many rooted and cheered for Depp, he had finally gotten justice. Like the fairy tales of old, our hero has come back from his lowest point and the evil villain has been vanquished. Morals have been learned and good has triumphed over evil. Simple? Not quite.
Depp and Heard first met in 2011, dated for a few years before getting married for a rather short period of time(2015-2016). Heard filed for a divorce in 2016 on grounds of domestic abuse; there was an out of court settlement and the divorce finalized in 2017. She wrote an op-ed in 2018 for The Washington Post as a voice for women who have been victims of domestic abuse. This resulted in a $50 million lawsuit against her for defamation by Depp; he claimed she was indeed a perpetrator and not a victim of domestic abuse as she led the public to believe.
In 2020, phone recordings of Heard admitting to hitting Depp were released which swayed public opinion in Depp’s favour. However, Depp lost a libel suit against The Sun for referring to him as a wife beater in November 2020. Heard eventually responded to Depp’s defamation suit with a $100 million counter-suit in January 2021. The lawsuit finally came to trial April 2022 and finally ended after 7 tedious weeks of reading and listening to the bad, the ugly and the questionable details of their relationship and marriage.
If one thing is clear from this trial, it is that not much is clear. Like many cases of domestic violence, the trial quickly devolved into a “he said, she said” situation. There is compelling evidence to believe that they both acted violently towards each other, although it is difficult to establish who was the aggressor and who was acting in self defence. Heard claimed she was physically abused by Depp on multiple occasions and her legal team presented pictures, texts and an audio recording to back up her claims. Depp denied the allegations and insisted he had never struck a woman. A testimony from an expert witness suggests that some of the pictures had gone through a photo-editing application but Heard’s lawyers argued that the application was also used to save pictures. Though witnesses testified to have seen Heard with injuries, they could not establish when or who inflicted the injuries.
In conflicting accounts of the severed finger event, Heard allegedly hurled a vodka bottle at Depp leading to the loss of his finger, but in her account of the event, Heard claimed to have been sexually assaulted with the same bottle. While there was no evidence to support Heard’s allegation, two things are certain about that night; there was a broken bottle of vodka involved and Depp lost a body part at the end of it. The mechanism of injury however remains debatable as the surgeons presented by both legal teams did nothing to help clarify the details of that night. For a case that was very much in the public eye, the details seem to recede the more you look at them.
There are no innocents in this case. As much as we want it to be, this case is not cut and dried. Amber Heard is no saint, the same goes for Johnny Depp. Laurel Anderson, a marriage counselor who conducted sessions for the couple while they were still together, reportedly observed ‘mutual abuse’ in the relationship. Was Heard ever abused by Depp? If yes, then the op-ed article does not count as a defamation. Was Depp physically and psychologically violated by Heard? I think it is pretty clear what the evidence points to. In our bid to create narratives that fit our preconceived notions, it is important that we do not cherry pick information. Two truths can co-exist, and in the end, it boiled down to who told the more convincing story.