Johnny Depp, dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow, sits in a witness booth.
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You’ve probably heard the names Johnny Depp and Amber Heard being thrown around recently. Maybe a meme here or there, or a clip of some movie stars in a courtroom. But what’s the scandal? Who’s suing whom? Isn’t Johnny Depp a pirate? As someone with a little too much interest in both “Pirates of the Caribbean” and the judicial system, I’m here to tell you exactly what’s going on and what the true importance behind the trial is.

Johnny Depp became a household name after his role as Captain Jack Sparrow in the widely popular movie series, “Pirates of the Caribbean.” As a family favorite, loved by children and adults alike, fans were devastated when, in 2016, rumors that Depp had abused his ex-wife, Amber Heard, began to spread. Almost overnight, his high reputation was slashed, costing him millions of dollars as fans and employers began to boycott him. As a beloved pirate-turned-wife-beater, Johnny’s reputation and career were over.

Denying the abuse allegations from the beginning, Depp set out to save his reputation through a series of defamation lawsuits. To commit defamation is to make an untrue statement, which can be spoken or written, that wounds the reputation of another, often with financial consequences. This is not a criminal lawsuit, in which one party can be found to be an abuser or not, but is rather about reputation and its monetary repercussions.

The first of these lawsuits brought by Depp was against a U.K. publisher in 2016 who wrote an article about the alleged abuse — a case which Depp lost. Then, in April 2022, his most recent and widely televised lawsuit against his ex-wife, Amber Heard came to trial. In this suit, Depp accused Heard of making untrue abuse accusations that ruined his reputation and consequently lost him millions of dollars. In response, Heard brought a defamation counterclaim against him, as she believed he had damaged her reputation and career in turn.

Now that we all know what’s what, let’s get into what you really came here for: who won? Well, as it turned out, they both did — but mostly Depp. The jury awarded Depp $15 million in damages and Heard $2 million for a comment by Depp’s attorney that was found to be defamatory. This means that the jury found Heard’s allegations of abuse to be falsely made, publicly damaging to Depp’s reputation and a cause of financial loss for him. Depp said in a recent Instagram post that this decision “gave me my life back,” restoring his reputation and exposing the truth. 

Besides being humorously entertaining at times, this trial has more to offer now that it’s over. Both parties represent survivors of domestic abuse, with the public eye carefully watching the entirety of the trial unfold. In the op-ed that began the whole lawsuit, Heard calls herself a “public figure representing domestic abuse,” joining the #MeToo movement and becoming a self proclaimed advocate for domestic abuse victims. Sadly, given the recent trial outcome, Heard appears to be anything but the admirable and courageous model for survivors that she parades as. According to the court decision, she falsely accused her partner of sexual and physical abuse, adopting a victim complex for fame and money. Not only that, the evidence presented in trial dictates that she may have even been the abuser herself all along.

Her false accusations and self proclamation as a model of the #MeToo movement could have detrimental effects for true victims of domestic abuse who hope to speak out and get help. Inaccurately posing as one of the one in four women who experience domestic abuse, Heard has let down women watching all over the world. Many survivors are already hesitant to come forward about their abuse in fear that they won’t be believed, and many women who do come forward are dismissed as liars seeking to ruin a man’s career. The narrative that women lie about abuse, though very rarely the case, with only 2% to 10% of rape allegations found to be false, persists and discourages people from coming forward. Heard’s extremely publicized false claims of domestic abuse will only perpetuate the idea that women lie about sexual assault as a career block to men. Through her actions, she completely undermined the very values that she pretended to uphold and hurt the women that she posed as supporting.

The other face of domestic abuse in this trial is Johnny Depp, who represents male victims and survivors. One in nine men experience domestic abuse from a partner, though very few come forward because of fear that they won’t be believed or would be told to “be a man” as a result of social culture surrounding masculinity. Despite the fact that men are 230 times more likely to be raped than falsely accused of rape, that statistic goes unacknowledged by our normative society today. By bringing this trial to defend himself, Depp bravely faced the public scrutiny and disbelief that may come from his claims, standing as a survivor of domestic abuse and a beacon of hope for many men.

Heard’s legal team played every harmful yet predictable card, submitting that, as a man, Depp couldn’t possibly have been the victim of a harmless woman like Heard. Shocking evidence of Heard admitting to hitting Depp on tape supported his claims and quieted disbelief. Through his lawsuit, Depp courageously called out his abuser and fought for himself, being a real “public figure representing domestic abuse” that the #MeToo movement would be proud to claim.

This case was extremely high profile between two celebrities who had plenty of money to lose, but there are many people watching who might find themselves in a similar situation without the money or resources that these celebrities had. Regardless of the attention it has received and the people involved, it still remains a serious matter and example of justice for the public watching. The actions of Heard and Depp are televised for all the world to see, placing them in an influential position of how to treat the subject. While Depp functions as an example of hope and encouragement, Heard’s behavior could be equally as damaging as his is helpful. This trial, as all are supposed to be, was about exposing the truth and serving justice. From its example, we can learn to seek truth and justice in the situations we encounter in our personal, less famous lives.

Amy Edmunds is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at