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6th February 2024

Uncut film takes: Amber Heard belongs in Aquaman 2

As this winter saw the release of Aquaman 2, we examine the public image of the unfireable Amber Heard and Hollywood’s double standards of damnation
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Uncut film takes: Amber Heard belongs in Aquaman 2
Credit: AQUAMAN AND THE LOST KINGDOM @ Warner Bros. Pictures

There are several disturbing videos currently circling on YouTube: bizarre cooking shorts that are actually fetish content, tutorials on how to dissolve a body, my old VideoStars etc. But an “Amber Heard gets DESTROYED by lawyers for 12 minutes” video recommended on my eight-year-old brother’s ketchup-stained iPad screen is the one that keeps me up at night.

Trigger Warning: Mentions of rape, domestic and sexual violence.

The circus of Depp v Heard needs no introductions. Stretched across two trials, Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s legal war will inevitably have chilling effects on the future dynamics of domestic abuse justice. Beyond the doom-scrolling and Daily Mail headlines, here is what we know for certain: evidence cementing a primary aggressor in the volatile marriage points towards Depp. In the UK courts, Depp was proven to have unequivocally abused Heard. But in the US, Heard’s abuse claims were ruled as defamation. 

Depp’s win was a product of the festering pit of spectacle that is the US court system. A live-streamed trial twisted a defamation dispute into an international watch party, with millions of misogynistic eyes on Heard. The Super Bowl for sexists, the world completely de-personified Heard in the trial’s fallout; she was no longer one woman against one man, but a representation of every ‘bitch wife’ daring to ask for justice.

To the surprise of absolutely no one, the media had some misogyny ready to levy, freshly simmered under the ‘misandry’ of the #MeToo movement. The intersection of Harry Potter adults and incels somehow grew even larger, with fans that were originally upset over Depp’s replacement in Fantastic Beasts speedily morphing into experts on domestic abuse.

Depp’s lawyers diverted public attention from Depp’s confirmed abuse, instead aiming relentless analysis at any holes in Heard’s story. Baseless claims of fake bruises were flogged to the watching world as fact. Heard was even awarded damages for a lie pushed by Depp’s team that she had ‘roughed up’ his home. The trial mutated from a question of whether Depp had abused his wife, to whether she’d had it coming. Even in the face of undeniable abuse, perfection was demanded of Heard and her victimhood. The tsunami of unsupported accusations pushed her back against the wall, spearheaded by the public’s desire to believe them.

Taking place in the summer of 2022, the trial unfolded in the shadow of a string of cautionary tales of the manipulative woman: House of Gucci in November, The Dropout in March and The Girl from Plainville in April. All based on true stories, these adaptations situated the vengeful bitch archetype in the forefront of the public’s mind. Heard’s characterisation as a scheming mastermind was an easy conclusion for the masses to draw, slotting in perfectly alongside the Lady Macbeths of their favourite new releases. She was every evil woman all in one: manipulative, cunning, greedy and disloyal. Her pain was ridiculed and her sobbing testimonies were heckled as crocodile tears, whilst Depp’s reserved, inoffensive demeanour allowed him to don the dutiful husband persona with perverse ease.

Depp’s image of the gentle provider only tightened the noose around Heard’s neck. There was an unavoidable sense of debt, that Heard should have been more tolerant to Depp because she owed it to him; a household name who could’ve had anyone, sweeping up and marrying a younger, practically unknown actress. The world agreed against biting the hand that fed you, even if it had occasionally dealt a slap. The public knew it was in Depp’s nature, the sensitive actor that had dressed as Jack Sparrow for sick children, to generously care, and that a greedy, young starlet had married him to exploit that selflessness and drain him of his fortune.

Depp v Heard was a masterclass in such myths. The myth of true justice. The myth of the perfect victim. And, most importantly, the myth that Hollywood would ever truly turn its back on Johnny Depp. Despite his lawyers’ assertions that Heard had irreparably damaged Depp’s career, the actor has since received an open-armed return to film. He was the darling of Cannes in Jeanne du Barry and recently commenced production on his directorial debut, Modi. Which begs the question; why is a confirmed abuser still working, but Hollywood wants Heard gone?

An online petition calling for Heard’s removal from Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom has garnered over 4.6 million signatures. Online, the cruel masses deemed just one actress fit to replace Heard as Jason Momoa’s love interest; Emilia Clarke. Fans were desperate to reincarnate Khal Drogo and Daenerys Targaryen, despite the fact that their Game of Thrones relationship was defined by forced marriage and rape fantasies.

It’s stomach-churning to process; the same mob supposedly rallied against domestic abuse jumped at the first chance to reminisce on a twisted on-screen ‘romance’ built on the violent kidnapping and rape of a sixteen-year-old girl. If Heard wouldn’t play ball in the game of patriarchy, she’d be replaced with an actress who had already played the role of the perfect abuse victim; Daenerys Targaryen, a sex symbol that worshipped her abuser. 

Beyond petitions by Depp’s stans, Heard’s case was further diminished by mainstream media’s amplification of Depp’s support. The Daily Wire spent tens of millions of dollars promoting ads and videos with a bias against Heard. Any mistake from Heard was immediately smeared onto headlines, whilst little to no media coverage was given to evidence in her favour. Everybody with internet access knew that Kate Moss testified in Depp’s defence, but news outlets paid less interest to Ellen Barkin’s testimony that Depp had attacked her with a wine bottle and drugged her before sex.

The jury’s ruling in Depp’s favour was plastered on papers like a VE Day announcement, discouraging the public from considering if the smear campaign masked as media coverage had tipped the scales. Heard’s undesirable qualities were bloated to grotesque proportions, and any defence was buried by the media, effectively painting Heard as an unsupportable public enemy.

For women, labels like this stick. Heard is borderline blacklisted whilst her multi-millionaire ex-spouse creeps back into the mainstream. Polanski got a standing ovation at the Oscars whilst wanted for drugging and raping a thirteen-year-old girl. Mel Gibson’s ex-wife was rewarded a restraining order for domestic abuse, and five years later, he had six Oscar nominations for Hacksaw Ridge. Violent men are not only forgiven but adored in Hollywood, whilst an abused woman is mercilessly hated for the mere crime of being an unlikeable victim.

Audiences’ understanding of the truth of Depp and Heard’s violent marriage will remain murky, but the double standards are crystal clear. Heard is a barely squeaky wheel receiving gallons of grease whilst the ancient machine of patriarchy is left to screech on. Her persisting inclusion in Aquaman is a long-awaited dismissal of the misogynistic masses, and I will be watching in support. As for Depp, we can only hope that the pendulum of public favour will eventually swing away from him and his acting career. Maybe then he’ll just stick to making music that no one listens to. 

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