In another life, Johnny Depp was an actor—eccentric, at best, and known to be violent, abrasive, and difficult to work with, at worst. He played a quirky pirate with a ride at Disneyland, and he did some other projects now and then. Today, he’s taken on a new life altogether, something between all-American rockstar and transcendent Greek god. Case in point: A collection of his mediocre art has reportedly broken the internet, selling for millions, per a New York Post report on Friday. The art apparently sold out within hours, raked in $3.6 million, and drew so much interest that it crashed the website of the UK gallery hosting it. This, of course, comes weeks after Depp rolled out a new album and filled arenas with his band on tour.
What happened between then and now, you ask? Earlier this year, at Depp’s behest, the trial for his lawsuit against ex-wife Amber Heard was publicly televised. The lawsuit concerned whether Heard had defamed Depp by writing about surviving domestic violence two years after publicly accusing him of abuse.
Over the course of the trial throughout April and May, and in the weeks since, Depp has emerged as something of a national hero. It’s not just the massive popularity of his art and music, which few knew existed before any of this. This man could quite literally sell a plastic bag of his own shit on eBay for millions to adoring men’s rights activists, as well as plenty of members of mainstream society. If you so much as breathe a word in support of Heard and other victims, hordes of both bots and—alarmingly enough—real people will pile onto you seemingly out of nowhere—some will hurl hashtags like #AmberHeardIsAnAbuse or #AmberHeardIsALiar; others might use a photo of one of your deceased family members to create a fake account and troll you.
A woman said Depp raped her with a liquor bottle, nearly killed her, and beat her in front of his own staff who declined to intervene. Depp responded by capitalizing on a prolonged moment of intense, anti-MeToo backlash to use Heard as a stand-in for all women who have ever accused men of abuse—and he won. We can try to write off massive public support for Depp as coming exclusively from incels and MRA’s, but they alone didn’t spend $3.6 million on his paintings—Depp has become extremely popular in the mainstream, more popular than ever. And this simply wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t abused and subsequently, very publicly humiliated and retraumatized Amber Heard.
During the trial, Heard and her legal team presented more evidence that Depp had abused and sexually assaulted her than most victims are able to provide—witness accounts, therapy notes, text messages, threatening audio, photos of injury. Depp’s team responded by deploying scorched-earth tactics that reinforced decades of victim-blaming myths. His team equated Heard’s acts of self-defense and responses to Depp’s abuse with “mutual abuse,” cited questionable sources on Heard’s mental health to frame her as “crazy,” and cited an imagined extramarital affair to cast her as too slutty to be believed. A predominantly male jury then ruled in Depp’s favor, calling on Heard to pay a man she alleged had nearly killed her $15 million.
In June, a male juror claimed he hadn’t been swayed by the massive social media smear campaign against Heard—which was in part supported by a substantial ad buy from conservative outlet The Daily Caller, and PR direction from a former Trump communications staffer. The juror’s own words, nonetheless, exposed that he was very much swayed by his own misogyny: “The crying, the facial expressions that she had, the staring at the jury—all of us were very uncomfortable. She would answer one question and she would be crying and then two seconds later she would turn ice cold… Some of us used the expression ‘crocodile tears,’” he told GMA last month.
He continued: “A lot of the jury felt what [Depp] was saying, at the end of the day, was more believable. He just seemed a little more real in terms of how he was responding to questions. His emotional state was very stable throughout.” Heard couldn’t meet this individual man’s precise threshold of an appropriate emotional display after enduring years of trauma and abuse, so, therefore, she was lying. On the other hand, shockingly enough, a wealthy white man over 20 years older than Heard just so happened to “seem a little more real.”
To be clear, despite this ruling in the U.S., a British court ruled in November 2020 that Depp had abused Heard. Throughout the trial in the U.S. this year, Depp admitted as much by characterizing the relationship as mutually abusive, acknowledging his own abusive acts and merely pretending Heard’s responses to this violence constituted abuse, too.
According to Amanda Kippert, director of editorial at Domestic Shelters, “most victims accused of being mutually abusive are just having emotional or even physical reactions to the abuse that they’re suffering.” Abusive partners will then “accuse their victims of being abusive, in order to shift the blame as a form of gaslighting,” Kippert told Jezebel in may.
That a lawsuit from a male crew member who accused Depp of punching him in 2017 has largely slipped through the cracks—save for conspiracy theories from a few particularly obsessive fans—speaks to what the Heard-Depp trial was really about. The crew member’s lawsuit against Depp wasn’t alleging sexual or domestic violence; as a result, his claims weren’t held to the same innately sexist scrutiny. His suit wasn’t seen as an overarching threat to men’s power and privilege to do whatever they want to women, and still somehow emerge as the victim when women speak out against them—thus, it was unimportant.
Depp’s legal victory over Heard is about infinitely more than one celebrity marriage gone hideously wrong. For men’s rights activists and our misogynist society, it’s a triumphant warning shot to women and victims everywhere to shut up and know our place. For women and victims, it’s a reminder of how much society hates us—and through the endless, violent myths it’s validated in the mainstream, it’s a boon to our abusers for years to come.