Welcome to OBSESSED, in which I provide you a reading list / media consumption list that speaks to my primary hobby: doing obsessive amounts of research into a singular topic or story for no reason. This week the Amber Heard Johnny Depp trial verdict had some dire implications for us all.
I’m not obsessed with this story in the way I am with the other stories I’ve talked about here — I have no desire to pour over trial transcripts, to watch videos, to assemble a hot take. Even as I sit here typing these words my primary feeling is regret that I am doing this at all, because it is a topic that is fundamentally not my business yet has become all of ours and because I know better.
Because I believe categorically that it’s impossible for anybody besides the parties involved to know the total truth of any relationship, especially a toxic one, and I’m not sure how relevant the relationship between two celebrities can be to our own lives.
But I also believe from experience that being in an abusive relationship can warp your sense of yourself and of reality, that that kind of manipulation and control and fear can wear away at your brain until it breaks. It has been viscerally painful to see, used as evidence against her, Amber’s looping, desperate handwriting, infused with sweeping declarations of love and devotion to Depp, exaltations of his character and their partnership. Because I’ve written notes exactly like that — not because they were true but because I wanted them to be, because I needed to drag a person I loved out of the darkness and into the light, because telling the truth would’ve made the truth worse than it already was. And sometimes I wrote those notes because after being on the receiving end of so much manipulation, I became manipulative, too. And I can’t imagine being in that situation with an abusive partner who was as rich and as famous and as powerful as Johnny Depp.
Like so many others, I could not avoid news of this trial — I only learned it was taking place at all because the clips began invading my TikTok feed in April. These TikTok clips usually featured Johnny Depp being a heartless smartass, framed as clips of Johnny Depp being a heroic comedian. You’ve seen them. We’ve all seen them.
I was confused to find the comments on these clips filled with millions of Depp supporters, because from what I understood of the case, Amber Heard’s allegations had plenty of evidence to back them up. Her Washington Post editorial had been vetted by the ACLU and, you know, The Washington Post. When British tabloid The Sun called Johnny Depp a “wife beater,” he sued them for defamation and lost, despite the UK’s far less generous libel laws. I didn’t believe Amber Heard had a credible case because we should automatically “believe women” but because this case does not rely on one person’s word alone. There is a lot here. But pretty soon I learned — we all learned — that none of that really mattered.
I grew up with Johnny Depp. He had dreamy eyes and a lesbian haircut and dated our collective girlfriend Winona Ryder. He was in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape with our other girlfriend, Leonardo DiCaprio. We saw Benny & Joon at the movie theater in the mall and rented Ed Wood from the indie video store. But he was trouble. Everybody knew that.
Amber Heard came into our lives more recently, and landed on our radar here when she came out in 2010 — some years into her relationship with photographer Tasya Van Ree. Despite already having a pretty extensive acting resume, I knew her mainly as a face I’d seen on a lot of magazine covers including my folded fave, Missbehave. She appeared frequently in magazines like Maxim and FHM, the kind my ex-boyfriends read and left in the bathroom and that I’d read too because I was a Cool Girl. The same magazines likely read by the Depp fans who now curse her name. I wonder how many of them taped pictures of her in shimmering swimming pools upon the sloped ceilings that descended over their twin-sized beds.
We were all a little surprised that she’d come out because so few actors were taking that risk, then. With the complicated exception of Lindsay Lohan, she was arguably the most conventionally “Hollywood hot” actress to do so at that time. The week she came out, we interviewed her at a GLAAD event where she’d been invited to present an award. Speaking about her choice to come out despite the potential career risks, she said, “I’d rather go down for doing what’s right than to rise for doing what’s wrong.”
And it is unfortunate that so many of the stereotypes popularly associated with bisexual women have been leveled against Amber Heard throughout this trial — unreliable, deceptive, dishonest, duplicitous. It is unfortunate to see similar claims being made about Evan Rachel Wood, another mainstream famous bisexual actress who dared to speak out against her abuser. I don’t know if Heard’s sexuality has influenced popular perception of her and if it has, that influence is likely subconscious. I don’t really know anything, I guess, besides that all of this makes me sad and a little scared.
Here is everything I read about this trial, in chronological order. If you want to read only one thing about this trial and not ten thousand things, I recommend this one thing.
The Trouble With Johnny Depp, by Stephen Rodrick for Rolling Stone (June 2018) – This is not about the trial, but this piece I read in 2018 stuck with me, ’cause I remember thinking it was a shocking account of an unhinged once-admired actor who was doomed to spend the latter half of his life destroying himself, after summarily destroying everybody close to him.
Depp seems oblivious to any personal complicity in his current predicament. Waldman seems to have convinced Depp that they are freedom fighters taking on the Hollywood machine rather than scavengers squabbling over the scraps of a fortune squandered.
A Complete Timeline of the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard relationship and Abuse allegations (April 2022) – A twitter thread from April that summarizes the allegations. Contains disturbing photographs.
A twitter thread explaining how this trial pushes back progress made against domestic abuse and sets the stage for those who want to destroy people who name their abusers, and earn support for doing so. It also gets into why he likely chose Virginia as the setting for his trail.
Johnny Depp Stans Are Being Fucking Weirdos, by Kent for Four Kents, May 2022 – This post assembles a lot of information usefully, including a timeline of Johnny Depp’s violent behavior prior to his relationship with Heard. There’s also a useful section on how, even if there’s truth to the allegation that there was some violent behavior on both sides, “mutual abuse is not a thing.” That section led me back in time to a piece from Wear Your Voice that describes how “situational violence isn’t the same as domestic violence.”
How We’re All Being Gaslighted by the Johnny Depp versus Amber Heard lawsuit, by Rebecca Davis for The Daily Maverick, May 2022: On how the trial, earning wall-to-wall coverage at “populist outlets” like tabloids and right-wing media and being warped by its uniquely wild social media coverage, is moving the trial into “the court of public opinion.” This piece handily summarizes the social media onslaught we all seemed to be experiencing.
The Amber Heard Trial is Not As Complicated As You May Think, by Jessica Winter for The New Yorker, May 2022 – “You don’t have to trust Amber Heard to look at twelve words in a newspaper column and wonder why they serve as an invitation to listen to her sobbing incoherently in an ugly argument with her unmoved spouse, or to read texts in which Depp calls her a “gold digging, low level, dime a dozen, mushy, pointless dangling overused flappy fish market.wp_posts”
Why the Depp-Heard trial is so much worse than you realize, by Aja Romano for Vox, May 2022 – “Most of the reporting on these memes has placed the blame for their sensationalist tone squarely on the evolution of fandom content creation. But recall that the white supremacist alt-right movement has a long history of memeifying everything they want to normalize and legitimize, and keep in the forefront of your mind that the alt-right latched onto this case as its bulwark long before fandom and the internet at large did. By now, after years of political disinformation campaigns, we’re used to social media’s natural ability to contort reality. Rarely, however, has it bent this far, this rapidly, for this many people, in service of something this vile.”
The Inescapable Horror of Depp v. Heard, by Lux Alptraum for The Cut, May 2022 – “Personally, the fire hose of trial coverage has been actively distressing. Not because Heard is being demonized by Depp’s fans, or because I fear my own abuser taking a cue from Depp and attempting to destroy me in court. For me, it’s the way a horrifically abusive relationship has been turned into fodder for jokes, memes, and deeply insensitive commentary — and the fact that no matter how hard I try, it all feels impossible to escape.”
Jury rules wife beater is bigger celebrity than beaten wife, by Ian MacIntyre for The Beaverton, June 2022 – Satire! It makes a point!
The Bleak Spectacle of the Amber Heard-Johnny Depp Trial, by Michael Hobbes for The Present Age, June 2022 — This is the best piece on the trial I’ve come across. It’s comprehensive, and full of links to evidence and other worthwhile reads. Michael Hobbes (of The Maintenance Phase podcast) on “How a washed-up celebrity, men’s rights activists and true crime stans convinced millions of Americans to buy into a conspiracy theory.”
The Depp defamation suit should outrage and appall you, by Jill Filipovic for The Guardian, June 2022 – “This verdict is perhaps the biggest blow to the #MeToo movement since its inception. And that’s true, again, even if you don’t believe Heard’s version of events: the lesson of this trial is that one can be as careful as possible in speaking out about abuse and still be financially gouged into silence.”
Depp-Heard trial: Why Johnny Depp lost in the UK but won in the US, by Robin Levinson-King for the BBC, June 2022 – “Mark Stephens, an international media lawyer, told the BBC that it’s “very rare” that essentially the same case is tried on two sides of the pond and gets different results.He believes the main factor that influenced Mr Depp’s victory in America was the fact that his US trial was before a jury while his UK trial, over an article in the British tabloid that called him a “wife-beater”, was before a judge only.”
The Actual Malice of the Johnny Depp Trial, by AO Scott for The New York Times, June 2022 – “In his testimony, Depp copped to some bad stuff, but this too was a play for sympathy, of a piece with the charm and courtliness he was at pains to display. That he came off as a guy unable to control his temper or his appetites was seen, by many of the most vocal social media users, to enhance his credibility, while Heard’s every tear or gesture was taken to undermine hers. The audience was primed to accept him as flawed, vulnerable, human, and to view her as monstrous.”
The Amber Heard Verdict Was a Travesty. Others Will Follow, by Michelle Goldberg for The New York Times, June 2022 – On what this means for the First Amendment. Reading the comments on this piece made me want to swan-dive into the courtyard of the outdoor shopping mall I am sitting in right now but the piece itself is great.
Here’s A List Of All The Celebs Who Liked Johnny Depp’s Instagram Statement, by Kelsey Weekman for Buzzfeed, June 2 2022 – It also lists the celebs who liked Amber Heard’s post, although for some reason it hasn’t included model Corey Ray or actress Lucy Grace Barrett on Amber’s list. Regardless, the difference is… staggering.