Johnny Depp-Amber Heard libel lawsuit brings stan culture into the courtroom
A frantic scene materializes four days a week at the Fairfax County Courthouse in Virginia as fans seek seats in the libel trial between Johnny Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard.
The queue to enter the courthouse begins before sunrise. Throughout the day, people appear carrying signs, wearing fan merch and costumes, even walking with a pair of alpacas. Almost all of them are there for Depp.
“We just want to support our captain,” said Jack Baker, 20, who arrived dressed as a Pirates of the Caribbean extra on Monday to shoot footage for his YouTube channel. “If he goes down with the ship, we go down with him.”
Maryam Alam, 29, and Alina Alam, 29, had hoped to enter the courthouse, but when they showed up at 7 a.m. they were already too late. Both grew up watching Depp on screen – playing characters such as Edward Scissorhands, Captain Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka – and were eager to see him in person.
“It’s the fulfillment of a childhood fantasy,” said Maryam Alam. “That’s why everyone is here.”
High-profile celebrity cases have drawn large audiences since Court TV began broadcasting from courtrooms in the 1990s. But Depp and Heard’s trial has become a case study in what happens when Complex claims are filtered through the lenses of stan culture and social media.
In addition to live coverage on TV, YouTube, and various news and entertainment websites, countless short clips edited for maximum virality have circulated on Instagram and TikTok — “fancams,” in the parlance from social media, with forensic analysis of Depp and Heard’s trial outfit. , and the exchanges in the courtrooms that have been called “WILD”.
Depp, 58, is suing Heard, 36, over an essay she published in The Washington Post in 2018 about sexual violence, in which she described herself as a “public figure representing domestic violence.” Although Depp was not named in the article, he argued that he was clearly referring to him, damaging his reputation and career. (Heard filed for divorce in 2016 and, shortly thereafter, a restraining order against Depp, which was granted.) In her testimony, Depp denied ever hitting Heard and maintained that she was the abuser. in their relationship. The jury is simultaneously considering a countersuit for libel from Heard against Depp.
Numerous accusations surfaced in 2020, during a defamation case brought by Depp against The Sun, a British newspaper which ran a headline calling him a “wife beater”. The judge ruled that the defendants had shown that what they posted was “substantially true”, and Depp lost the case.
Although the Virginia jury has been instructed to carefully weigh the evidence and not return a verdict until after testimony is complete (Heard has yet to take a position), and fan watchers have been advised not to comment. audibly or visibly to either party in the courtroom, the rest of the world is under no such obligation.
In a TikTok video captioned “AMBER HEARD CUGHT LYING AGAIN”, Ethan Trace (2.8 million subscribers) happily recounts how Heard’s lawyer told the court that the actress used a makeup palette to cover up the bruises Depp gave her during their marriage. The attorney held up a palette to reinforce her point, and while she didn’t name the brand, it was identifiable in the trial photos and video, and internet sleuths were quick to name the company, Milani Cosmetics.
Milani, the brand, then posted a TikTok video stating that the product featured by Heard’s attorney only became available after the couple split. (“Milani Cosmetics does not take a formal position on the trial, the evidence, or the future outcome of the case,” a spokesperson wrote in a statement.)
“Boom!” Trace says in the video. “Milani Cosmetics: We love you! Thanks for sharing!” The video has over 16 million views.
In an email, Trace said he felt Depp had been treated unfairly by the media. “How could anyone talk about evidence that could possibly prove a man’s innocence after he was branded an ‘abuser’ in the public eye?” he wrote.
On April 13, shortly after testifying began, Gawker noted that the TikTok hashtag #justiceforjohnnydepp had received 1.1 billion views. In two weeks, that number has more than quadrupled. As of this writing, #justiceforamberheard has 22 million views.
Heard’s supporters hope his testimony will change the dialogue surrounding the trial. “Instead of watching all these TikToks and stuff, I think people should actually follow the case,” 22-year-old Carmen Diamandis said.
“Stans will literally go to any lengths to defend anyone,” he said of Depp’s supporters, adding, “Amber Heard, she doesn’t have that fanbase.”
Marianne Nafsu, 32, a true crime content creator from Detroit who has published about the case, said: “I can’t wait to hear her side when she goes to trial.” She added that “it is right to listen to both sides and see: where is all this coming from?”
Asked to comment on the fan response, Heard’s lawyers provided his friend Eve Barlow, a music journalist who tweeted in support of Heard.
“The social media landscape is shockingly brutal for Amber,” Barlow wrote in an email, adding that many of the comments on TikTok and Twitter reflect “misogynistic hatred.” Representatives for Depp did not respond to a request for comment.
Rachel Louise Snyder, author of “No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us,” said in an interview that Depp has certain advantages over Heard in the court of public opinion.
“People will do without the same critical eye they would give anyone else when it comes to someone who is truly a beloved figure,” she said. Snyder added that the case offers a potential counter-narrative to common misconceptions about abuse: who can perpetuate it and who can be victimized.
“We don’t see the victims as rich. We do not consider the victims as men. We don’t see abusers as women,” she said. “I’m not saying she’s an aggressor and he’s a victim. I’m just saying that we have the opportunity to examine our own myths and stereotypes around “Who is the victim and who is the aggressor?” (Violence affects 1 in 4 women, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and 1 in 7 men.)
On TikTok, many Depp supporters posted a recording in which Heard said, “Tell the world, Johnny, tell them, ‘I, Johnny Depp, a man, am a victim of domestic violence too'” and continued: ” See how many people believe or side with you.
Scout Robert, 24, was taken aback by Heard’s words. “When she said that, she told the world that as a man you can’t be mistreated,” she said in an interview. Robert, who has over 40,000 followers on TikTok, has posted numerous videos on the platform, in which she called Heard a liar, an abuser and a hypocrite. Some have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.
Robert said she felt the #MeToo “believe women” slogan had become overused. Instead, she said, people should “listen to women”, while recognizing “that men can also be victims of domestic violence”.
Snyder, likewise, thinks the Depp trial could spark more nuanced conversations about abuse and how it doesn’t always fit within clearly prescribed boundaries.
“Maybe he’s a victim; he may be an aggressor; maybe he’s a bit of both,” she said. “Same for her.”
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