Do you remember the hashtags: #MeToo, #TimeIsUp, #EnoughisEnough, or #BelieveWomen? Just five years ago we seemed to be on the brink of sea change, finally, finally turning the tide against culturally ingrained misogyny.
The #MeToo hashtag seemed to offer a glimpse into the immense scale of sexual violence, abuse and harassment against women around the world.
#MeToo was supposed to herald a new era with a greater understanding of the dynamics of abusive relationships, the mistreatment of survivors of sexual violence, and the sociocultural context that supports abusers and allows them to hide in plain sight.
When Harvey Weinstein was held accountable for years of abuse against women, it seemed to indicate that Hollywood had had enough and that women could now be respected, even believed.
But then came the Depp vs Heard 2.0 case, and everything that happened before that seems to count for nothing.
This week, we saw a woman sob as she recounted several alleged sexual assaults by her ex-husband. The answer? She was ridiculed for “overreacting” and “weeping without tears”. We heard her descriptions of her attacks: the graphic details she had to deliver to a packed courtroom and a global audience. The reaction? Added Pinocchio filters to her testimonial recordings. We looked at her as she whispered, “I don’t want to do this anymore… I can’t believe she has to do this.” The response on social networks? Teasing and making memes by making fun of her facial expressions.
There were no special measures in court. He had to take the stand, directly in front of the alleged abuser, who, at one point, smiled during his testimony. The court was so lax that when the woman stepped down from the dais for the morning break, she nearly collided with the alleged perpetrator as she left the courtroom.
As if rape reporting rates weren’t low enough, how many women would even consider reporting sexual violence after witnessing such treatment? How many women felt physically ill listening to the testimony and then seeing the judgments, insults and ridicule on social media? What the hell happened to #MeToo?
It turns out that all we should have learned in the five years since the #MeToo movement went viral is that it’s completely insignificant if it’s a fanciful popular celebrity in the frame. What a painfully and heartbreakingly depressing situation.
Don’t worry, I already know the likely answer to this article. Why can’t #MeToo followers understand that men can also be victims of domestic violence? Damn, women can be so sexist! And, of course, Depp was smiling during his ex-wife’s testimony: wouldn’t you laugh in disbelief if someone told outrageous lies about you in court?
Also, Johnny was really adorable in Edward Scissorhands and hilarious as Captain Jack Sparrow. Amber Heard was so lucky to have him, she must be innocent. No one so sweet, funny and attractive could do something so vile.
But that’s the thing about celebrities like Johnny Depp, the ones that have been around for decades. They become part of our lives, playing an important role in our memories of times past. We make them rich through our desire to meet them, perhaps even imagining that we have some connection with them, and they are in our homes through our screens on a regular basis.
Their physical appearances and voices are so familiar that we mistakenly believe we actually know the private human being behind the famous face. But we don’t. And we can’t.
However, the Depp vs. Heard libel trial has proven polarizing. Upright Depp’s defenders spit misogynistic slurs at Heard, claiming they don’t hate women, and many of Team Depp are women, but just hate Amber Heard for ruining Johnny’s life with her lies.
Depp fans are sure that their idol is a completely innocent man. They are on the right side of justice, calling out the cynical and despicable Heard for exploiting post-#MeToo cancel culture to benefit his own career and his bank account.
It doesn’t matter that Depp has already lost the libel case he brought against The Sun for labeling him a “wife beater.” Never mind that there is already a Superior Court ruling that he assaulted his wife, or that his appeal to overturn the verdict was rejected. Let’s ignore the vile text messages calling Heard “the slippery slut I donated my semen to for a while” and a dictionary of other misogynistic profanity.
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Despite all that has come before and all that has been heard and shown as evidence, the crowd still gathers, clapping or holding up #JusticeforJohnny signs, to greet their idol at the courthouse gates. Immediately after his ex-wife’s testimony, they wave to him from afar and smile encouragingly as he leaves the courtroom.
Fans will delight in the pile of gummy bears and candies on his table, and videos of the drawings and doodles he makes in his courtroom sketchbook will go viral. Are they endearing quirks—evidence of Depp’s lovable eccentricity—or a ploy to deal with his PTSD in a traumatic situation?
Otherwise, they could be one more confirmation of his innocence: who eats sweets and draws pictures when nervous or worried? Whatever it means, it’s positive. Our Johnny is the sweetest boy. Even Penelope Cruz says so.
Would Heard have received the same understanding if she had brought a package of candy to share with her legal team during opposing testimony? Or if she drew portraits on Post-its for the kind approval of his lawyer? Quite the contrary. She would have been absolutely flayed on social media for disrespecting proceedings and trivializing and undermining witness testimony.