Depp Vs. Heard: Judgment with many losers

In a narrower sense, the process was not about what the two did to each other, but about the many mutual claims – and whether they were true. This small difference not only plays a big role legally, but also expands the debate about the process.

In light of the huge public interest, not only was the toxic relationship between two people with huge publicity negotiated in court, in the media and on social networks, but also much broader topics such as mental, verbal and physical violence in relationships. Depp and Heard also had to act as projection surfaces for these issues – and that was where it got complicated: in public, the boundaries between a specific case and the mostly distorted conclusions from it are blurred.

Compensation for both – in different amounts

The jury, five men and two women, found that a 2018 Washington Post article from Heard was defamatory and malicious. In the text, she described herself as a victim of domestic violence – even though Depp was not mentioned in it. The actor is suing for $ 50 million in defamation. Heard responded with a counterclaim demanding $ 100 million.

She pointed out that Depp’s ex-lawyer Adam Waldman had damaged her reputation with a smear campaign. That both were awarded compensation is both contradictory and logical. The fact that he was awarded $ 15 million – ultimately just over $ 10 million under current Virginia law – and Heard only $ 2 million may make Depp look like the winner of the mud fight.

problematic grades

But the trial brought to light Depp’s past with drug abuse and violent outbursts. A series of audio and video recordings of heated quarrels between Depp and Heard, full of obscene insults, were played before the jury. The text messages he read about his ex-wife in the process damaged his image, and his lawyers’ apology that Depp simply had a “strong writing style” did not help much.

The process painted a picture of the harsh clash between two problematic characters, probably each shaped by their own experiences of abuse and / or violence, partly weakened by alcohol and drug abuse and probably also removed from the reality of their superstar existence.

Broken careers

Although the process was also about the two accusing each other of missing out on lucrative film roles through slander and thus ruining their careers, it is downright absurd how they both further harmed each other during the process. According to the Guardian, insiders expect Depp to first find its way to smaller independent productions.

A comeback to big roles seems possible – see other stars who initially disappeared from the scene after scandals – but it will take time. It is considered much more difficult for Heard to take the leap back to the big film industry, mainly because she has not had any prestigious lead roles before.

Judge one thing, signal another

Apart from the fate of the two, the question arises as to how great the social damage of the process is. Ultimately, the question was whether Depp, as Heard claimed, also used physical violence against him. The jury found no, and a majority of legal observers came to the conclusion that the clues and “evidence” presented by Heard did not adequately confirm physical abuse – and may even have been fabricated.

This verdict may be correct in the case, but it also has an unexpected signal effect: thinking further, it means that psychological and verbal violence is somehow tolerable.

“Destructive effects on victims of domestic violence”

Many commentators pointed out that victims of violence would have seen the case with horror, according to the New York Times. The lawsuit could have “devastating effects on victims of domestic violence,” the Guardian said.

Women would “now be silenced with the knowledge that they can not comment on their experiences of violence at the hands of men without facing a ruinous injury case. In that sense, women’s freedom of speech just became much less free.”

It is not so much the judgment that has created such a climate. The legal drama revealed the “deepest misogynistic tendencies”, according to a commentary from the New York Times, citing the public debate, especially on social networks. Heard was pillaged, “only that memes have replaced the stones”. And it can continue if Heard appeals as advertised.

The “#MeToo” template fits only to a limited extent

In any case, the impermissible simplification of wanting to assess the case with a silhouette-like “#MeToo” template has taken revenge. For the often prevalent facts about a male perpetrator and a female victim with clear roles are largely irrelevant here. And the attempt to evaluate the relationship between Depp and Heard in black and white provides an example and thus momentum for all those who try to relativize and thus downplay men’s attacks on women.

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