He Sued, She Sued

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The Depp-Heard trial has been the most recent celebrity feud to capture the public’s fascination. But can we learn anything from it? Photo credit: Discovery+

By Eric Valentine

Turd-gate. That news, wherein it seemed apparent the defendant left her poop in the plaintiff’s bed, was the first sign Depp v. Heard was more than a defamation—or defecation—case between two celebrities.

Next came romance; specifically, questions about whether mega-star and mega-pint-drinking actor Johnny Depp and his amicable, bright, attractive female lawyer Camille Vasquez, from the law firm Brown Rudnick, were—or soon would be—romantically involved. It really did look like there was a special affinity between the two, but both have publicly shut that idea down.

Then it got very meta: Was it sexist to assume Depp was dating Vasquez? Would Amber Heard’s poor showing damage the #MeToo movement? Was anyone siding with Depp, just a misogynist out to dismiss claims of unfair patriarchy? When Saturday Night Live spoofs a trial during its so-called cold open, a cultural something beyond law is on trial instead.

#MeTwo-Million

By the time Facebook Reels of Depp-Heard trial content had gone viral again and again, the jury found that both sides defamed one another, and that Heard’s did much more effectively than Depp’s. She now owes her ex $15 million, he owes her two. Neither are completely off the hook when it comes to future court cases or career paths, but since public opinion seems overwhelmingly in favor of Depp, it’s Depp who’s positioned to recover fastest and best.

In any toxic relationship, it’s impossible to know—or even define—who’s at fault and by how much. Yet, instinctively, we assume there is at least a “primary aggressor,” and in Depp v. Heard it became obvious to the jury and the public it was Heard who landed that starring role. For some, this proves the whole patriarchy theory and for others it reveals an equality wherein not only women are the victims of abuse. So who’s got it right?

Seeing Heard

Acting is reacting, so it is said. And the best performances are those in which an actor can dig deeply inside themselves, find a truth, recall the visceral emotion of that truth, and articulate it authentically within the setting and the script that was given. Acting may be pretending, but it is not lying. On the witness stand—and not in the alleged blacklist of Depp et al.—is where Heard has likely forfeited what was potentially a successful career. Also, here is where Depp opened a treasure trove of talent that once inspired and now may have revived his brilliant career. At the very least, it restored his reputation.

Not that the reputation was all good. In the UK, Depp had even lost a similar case largely due to the judge having no reason not to believe Heard felt in danger of her life. So how the heck did he win so resoundingly in the U.S.?

Partly, it’s because the suit in Britain was against a publication. The suit in Virginia was against Heard herself. But more so the victory was due to Depp—a three-time Oscar nominee and twice-named People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive—doing things on the stand Heard could not or would not do.

Here’s a quicklist:

Took accountability—Depp did not gloat about nor deny his issues with alcohol and drugs. Rather, he acknowledged their role in his struggles and their lack of role, too. Heard did the opposite; everyone else was wrong, mistaken, or lying. Her slips of tongue in some instances would have made Sigmund Freud blush.

Showed authenticity—A heavily tattooed, ponytailed man in dark shades wearing chunks of mannery is hardly the picture of authenticity. But for an eccentric like Depp—who shows signs of Asperger’s syndrome, which often acts as vessel and muse for extraordinary brilliance intellectually and creatively—donning his fashionable and unique wardrobe was a statement of honesty. Heard did the opposite; dressing as if Plain Jane was hired on as her new stylist.

Told his truth—No one but Depp and Heard know the actual truth, but when communicating his side of the story, you don’t have to be a misogynist to believe Depp over Heard. That’s because human communication has a finite number of ways it occurs and definitive gestures and tones and syntax that cluster together when we speak our truth and when we try to deceive. Depp’s answers, while sometimes even sarcastic toward Heard’s lawyers, were pensive and deliberate and labored and slow; even flawed. But they came from a personal space within Depp, indicated by his body language, which focused internally. Heard did the opposite; she faced the jury when answering the lawyers, forced her facial expressions to denote sadness and painful memory, and shifted focus to elements that just don’t matter (dirty carpets, her dog that stepped on a bee, etc.).

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, in conclusion, the fate of actress and model Heard does not matter so much to any movement seeking equality or justice for women or for the abused. That’s because of role models like Camille Vasquez, who is not some actor’s sexy sidekick, but rather a formidable lead attorney who just painted a masterpiece right in front of our eyes. Not only did it win her client’s case, it won her a promotion, too. The CEO of Brown Rudnick announced Vasquez is the newest partner in their renowned law firm.

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