When Amber Heard filed for divorce against husband of 17 months, Johnny Depp, citing domestic abuse, I was interested. My first thought was that whether the allegations were true or not, it was a very bold move. Depp must be one of the most celebrated and revered actors of my lifetime – he’s had unmitigated success and been a constant presence in film throughout his career. He’s succeeded in portraying both Tim Burton’s weird outsiders and also conventional hunky roles. He’s one of the people everyone more or less likes, and loads of people love.
So regardless of whether there was truth in Heard’s allegations or not, the one thing she could count on would be a severe backlash from his adoring fans. Which made me consider that perhaps they were more likely to be true, since the effort of launching these proceedings was sure to be high, take a huge emotional toll and follow her for the rest of her life, possibly damaging her career in the process.
A few days later a friend asked me if I’d heard about Amber Heard, that it was in the news, Amber was making everything up and trying to blackmail Depp. I wasn’t convinced. Actually, this is what I had been expecting people to say. It’s what famous men who have expensive lawyers and huge fan-bases always say. It’s the only thing they can say, but surprisingly effective, for no reason that makes sense. Cosby victims count over 50 women claiming to have been drugged, raped and discarded. Reading their stories individually is harrowing, but together they form a united, devastating picture that is impossible to disbelieve. Except that they were disbelieved, over and over again by huge numbers of people. Some people still believe Cosby over these 50 survivors, despite the uncanny similarities in their stories, despite even, the fact that Cosby himself admitted to procuring Qualudes in order to give them to young women he wanted to have sex with. But no, they were obviously just after money. Despite the fact that they didn’t ask for, or receive, any money.
(Heard has given all of the $7million settlement from the divorce to charity).
I looked up the Depp case online and found the story my friend was talking about. Doug something, a comedian a friend of Depp’s had come out and defended him under the headline ‘Johnny Depp is being blackmailed by Amber Heard – here’s how I know’.
There follows an account of how he went to Johnny’s house on the ‘alleged day of the assault’ and Johnny was in a bad mood and told him that Amber was about to leave him and that she had said she would do everything she could to blacken his name.
That was it – the extent of his evidence… Hmm. Even with my limited (but not negligible) experience and understanding of domestic abuse it seems obvious to me that perpetrators of this crime don’t freely admit what they are/have done. They are often manipulative – uniquely qualified in the skills of emotional blackmail and gaslighting, as well as covering up their true nature in front of others. This is one way abuse works: convincing the victim they are isolated and no one will believe them, so much more available an option for huge stars like Depp and Cosby.
It would stand to reason then, that were Depp aware that Heard was leaving him, he could guess that she’d be open about any abuse, and the most convincing thing he could say to his friends is that she was planning to make up stories about him. That’s not evidence that she’s blackmailing him. That’s evidence he said she was blackmailing him. Doug Something needs to do some research on domestic abuse. His account is incredibly misleading on a subject he can’t know anything about. How does he know his friend is telling the truth? Of course we all want to believe our friends are in the right, that’s obvious. But to come out and declare that he knows based on his friend telling him: that’s not ‘evidence’.
We all want to think that the people we get on with, love, have fun with are the ‘good guys’. We are told that killers, rapists and pedophiles are sad loners who cannot adjust to real life. But the truth is they are among us, they are us. Like many abusive partners there is evidence Depp is mortified by his behaviour, things he committed when intoxicated and later regretted. His assistant allegedly sent a text to Heard claiming Johnny cried when he learnt that he had kicked her. Many people don’t believe victims because they think they would have just left if they were treated badly, but the truth is these relationships are far more complex. There is love is involved, and not only love but obligation and guilt, a desire to save the person you can see is good within.
Now a video of Johnny has surfaced. Drunk and aggressive, he violently smashes kitchen cabinets and yells at Amber before snatching the phone she was secretly filming him on – reacting angrily and abusively. I’m pleased that this has come out, and I’m curious as to how Doug Something is responding to this new information. Hopefully he’ll be forced to realise his error. I hope he’ll have to rethink his ideas about domestic abuse, and recognise the damage he’s done to not only Heard but other victims by claiming she was lying.
Being an abusive partner doesn’t mean you cannot be charming, talented, friendly generous or ‘kind to animals’ (Johnny’s ex-wife’s character defence of him). In fact, these things are likely characteristics of abusive people since they thrive on manipulating one relationship through a show of power, perhaps to qualify feelings of insecurity and inferiority.
A priest who worked at my school is now in prison for possessing child pornography. But he wasn’t a sinister loner with a scar on his face who lurked in changing rooms. He was funny and cool and charismatic. He seemed moral and friendly and nice. Probably many of the children and staff would have said he was their favourite teacher. He always gave the best assemblies and he knew how to communicate with people on their level. There weren’t many people who didn’t like him; no mean feat for an adult working in a school. And I don’t now think of him as an evil person – I don’t hate him despite condemning what he did. But I also don’t go defending him to people, just because I only ever saw him be a ‘nice guy’. These character statements are completely misleading: they perpetuate the idea that the two things cannot be simultaneously true. That ‘nice guy’ cancels out the truth of abuse. They are not mutually exclusive ideas: it can be true that Depp has only ever been ‘sweet’, ‘kind’ and ‘gentle’ to Paul Bettany, a colleague, work associate or friend, and also that he has been abusive to his wife.
I can understand the desire to defend people you are close to, but please don’t assume to know how people treat their partners behind closed doors.