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Viewpoint: We decided who won the Depp v. Heard trial long before we had any right to; let’s do better

Viewpoint: We decided who won the Depp v. Heard trial long before we had any right to; let’s do better - The Mesquite Online News - Texas A&M University-San Antonio

Actor Amber Heard, second from right, speaks to her attorneys in the courtroom at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Va., Tuesday, May 17, 2022. Actor Johnny Depp sued his ex-wife Amber Heard for libel in Fairfax County Circuit Court after she wrote an op-ed piece in The Washington Post in 2018 referring to herself as a "public figure representing domestic abuse." (Brendan Smialowski/Pool Photo via AP)

Let’s be honest — win or lose against actress Amber Heard, actor Johnny Depp would have won in the eyes of the public, and this is a problem.

Jurors agreed that Heard had defamed Depp by hinting that Depp was a domestic abuser during their marriage in a Washington Post op-ed, granting him $15 million in damages. Meanwhile, the jury also found Depp defamed Heard in her attempts to defend herself, granting her $2 million.

The high-profile case, which was followed on television and social media, finally concluded favorably for Depp, who wrote this in his statement to the media: “I also hope that the position will now return to innocent until proven guilty, both within the courts and the media.”

That is a two-way street. While Depp suffered losses and defamation in his career and has now reached a sort of vindication, Heard was guilty in the eyes of the masses long before the verdict. Even if she had won this case, she would have had to carry the ridicule with her for the rest of her life.

It never took much to find the resounding bias against Heard just about anywhere on social media. Log into Facebook and one might come across a shared petition to strip Heard of her role in “Aquaman 2.” Log into TikTok and one might find a reel of people mocking Heard’s mannerisms in court. The memes and the ridicule kept coming.

I don’t remember Depp being subject to this level of scrutiny on social media when the op-ed was published in 2018. He lost work opportunities, most notably his feature role in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, but he was largely never hated by the public.

The most vitriol Depp ever got was minuscule compared with Heard’s. Even years before the trial began and even as Heard won against Depp in a libel case in the United Kingdom, the occasional viral tweet or Facebook post would make the rounds claiming that Heard was the abuser. 

Domestic abuse is not exclusive to women. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that one in nine men have experienced abuse. Meanwhile, one in four women have experienced the same. We can acknowledge Depp is a victim; I’m not saying you shouldn’t.

I’m saying there should have been more consideration about the treatment Heard got on social media. This sparring between Depp and Heard drew two separate cases in the UK and the US, favoring both stars, respectively. It’s now safe to say only Heard and Depp truly know how events transpired within the intimacy of their home. For all we know, it might have been a mutual case of domestic abuse. Having said that, the public should not have been so quick to draw conclusions about Heard.

The response Heard got by the public long before a court verdict came down sets a precedent for all victims of domestic abuse. The toxicity toward Heard says to victims, “speak up, and you might end up with this kind of retribution, too, whether you speak the truth or not.”

Let’s not use the Depp v. Heard trial as a reason to punish those brave enough to speak up about domestic abuse with indifference, mockery and disbelief. Domestic abuse is often a power imbalance where the victim stands to lose more. In the case of Depp v. Heard, the public loudly decided who was the loser far earlier than it had any right to. 

About the Author

Sergio Medina
Editor in Chief
Sergio Medina is a journalism senior and editor in chief for The Mesquite at Texas A&M University-San Antonio. He transferred from San Antonio College in December 2021, where he was editor for The Ranger student publication for four years. Sergio’s interest in journalism comes from a love in storytelling consisting of movies, video games, TV series, books and comic books. Upon completing his bachelor’s degree, Sergio aims to join the journalism ranks servicing the San Antonio community.

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