Depp vs. Heard Netflix Documentary – What Actually Happened and What’s the Point of this Documentary?

Disclaimer: I’m not a Johnny Depp fan. I’m not an Amber Heard fan. I knew nothing of the U.K. lawsuit or The Sun or that Depp had been called a “wife beater” when the defamation trial started streaming in 2022. I, like a lot of people, work for a living and am no more concerned about the government’s confirmation of aliens than two super rich artists getting a messy divorce and suing each other over he said/she said whatnot. I do watch movies. I think I enjoy most of Depp’s work, but I don’t like overly “weird” movies, so it is what it is. I never watched 21 Jump Street. I’m not a super fan.

I watched what I could watch of the trial as I worked from home. It’s the first. I did not watch the OJ Simpson Trial because I was too young to be interested, at the time, but I can say that looking in on a legal proceeding is fascinating. Watching people posture and prepare and care how they look to the jury is an interesting human study. Even the questions; how they are framed, how the answers are framed. It’s interesting! No question. And Depp and Heard were somewhat captivating to watch because you’re looking for reactions. It all comes down to what’s true and what’s not.

I was watching a TikTok video not too long ago where a woman was rating men and women on a “hot” scale at a kind of street rat level. It was funny. But when she came to Depp, she said, “Wife beater.” Almost a year after the trial, where Depp was judged by a group of peers as not being a “wife beater,” that’s what stuck with this woman. And probably many people, which, I assume, is why he sued. It ruined his career. But was he a “wife beater” or not? Is Amber Heard the physical abuser? This Netflix Documentary doesn’t answer the question. It doesn’t answer any questions.

The documentary seems to be more about the media frenzy and social media influencers who reported on and subsequently made money off the trial. There are cuts to actors staring at their phones to reenact regular people watching it all unfold, but it adds nothing and I’m not sure why director Emma Cooper chose to make three episodes about people watching a trial. It could have just been about the #metoo movement and fans and social media, but it’s like it couldn’t make up its mind what to be about so it tried to jump around to everything. It’s not interesting. Those of us who watched the trial know what happened, and those of us who follow social media saw the memes and parody videos and reacted to people’s reactions. The documentary literally shows you all that and is what? A mini series reacting to people reacting to a trial? Why? Do we really need to be told that super fans exist? That irrational people comment on things from a one-sided perspective? What I found fascinating, and continue to find fascinating about TikTok in particular, is that it seems to counter mainstream media. Where mainstream American media tells us that 100 people have died in the Maui and Lahaina fires, real people on the ground – overworked and over-stressed from lack of sleep in the middle of rescue efforts and recovering from tragedy – are telling us it’s hundreds if not thousands. That’s what makes TikTok impactful. While mainstream newspapers say that the issues in Iran are economic, real people who live there are telling us they are revolting against the Morality Police who murdered a young woman traveling with her family for wearing her burka incorrectly. Not one person. Hundreds of people. And taking footage of police shooting into crowds to show us how devastating and brutal their world is. A documentary that sort of chastises and mocks people for following social media seems out of touch.

There’s also the matter of a lot happening during that trial. And I mean, a lot! From laugh out loud witnesses to the judge’s reaction to those witnesses, to Depp not looking at Heard and her interesting attire changes from day to day. It was definitely too much to capture in 3 episodes of a 45 minute-ish docuseries. It was a lot.

I have had my own tumultuous relationship with a man who breaks things. He was the first person I ever met who reacted to stress by breaking inanimate objects. A few times he even hurt himself, but never me. And I’ve been abused physically and know women who have been beaten and assaulted. The truth is, Heard was very hard to believe. As someone who didn’t know what happened in their life, watching her talk about being hit while throwing a punch to reenact the experience, watching her full on cry without tears, and watching her very cold reaction to other people on the witness stand, it was hard not to see a calculating person. Forget the memes and parodies and everything else, she was not believable. She did not act like someone who’s been brutalized. You cannot recount being hit and punched and sexually assaulted by someone you trust without being emotional. And she was emotional on the surface, but there were no tears.

Okay, so there are pictures of bruising. Anyone who’s been hit by a fist knows that swelling comes with bruising. Severe, when you are talking about someone hitting you repeatedly in the face. Watch a boxing match. No one walks away without a swollen face who’s been punched. And they wear padded gear on their fists. Depp wears several rings on his fingers. She has some discoloration in her photos, but there should have been photos of her looking like what she described, and they weren’t there. Her team even tried to pass one photo as 2 different photos from 2 different occasions. Photo editing is just one of the jobs I perform as a content creator. The images were identical. It did not require a metadata expert to see that the images were the same image with a slight color adjustment. On the other hand, there is evidence of his finger severed after she threw a bottle in his direction. Blood, hospital photos and a closeup of a finger split at the tip.

Someone responded to the woman’s TikTok video rating street rat level hotness among famous people saying, ‘Well, actually, the Depp trial proved he was not the abuser, but the rest, yes.’ Meaning that the rest of the video was funny, but that facts do matter and he proved he’s not a wife beater. People jumped in quickly to say they’re both abusers. There’s no question they were abusive to each other. That was not the point of the trial. He admitted to being an addict, he admitted to nasty texts he sent. He admitted to breaking things. I hated my guy breaking things. It was explosive and jarring and inspired me to show him what it looked like on occasion. That was not the point. Did he beat her? Was The Sun headline correct? Was her Washington Post op-ed correct that she was a survivor of sexual and physical assault at the hands of her ex? And though she didn’t name him in the op-ed, she admitted during the trial it was about him. But everyone knew that, anyway.

And then there was more damning evidence. She repeatedly said she donated to two organizations $7 million dollars. Donated is past tense. That means something. To laypeople, that means you gave $7 million dollars to an outside entity. It was yours, in your account, and then you gave it to an entity, and now it’s no longer yours and in your account, it’s in that entity’s account to do with as they wish. How the media interchangeably uses the words “pledged” and “donated” is irrelevant. And the #metoo movement is barely mentioned. This could have gone into such depth and didn’t. We all know that there are people who jump on fads for personal gain. To no one’s surprise, Janice Dickinson said she was one of many women drugged and raped by Bill Cosby, and then said that she lied about it for her memoir. We know this happens, so it matters when a woman at the height of an important movement for women makes claims that aren’t true. It’s an insult to victims and to the movement. Saying you are a victim of domestic violence, saying you donated money you didn’t donate… it matters. The truth matters.

What I hope comes out of this, and for all couples who leave behind a toxic relationship, is healing and learning. It’s all any of us can hope for after making mistakes. Marrying a woman half your age? Guys can be very shallow when it comes to attractive women. He called her a “beautiful creature.” Not a good basis for a relationship. Hopefully, he finds someone his own age if he’s even interested in relationships ever again.

My personal opinion after watching the trial is that Heard is always looking for her next mark. She has a reptilian air about her. To be honest, she reminds me of an abuser I knew as a child. Her saying she has never wanted to be viewed as a victim felt like the most honest thing to leave her lips. And hopefully the smile when she spoke of her daughter. Children can change us. I hope she is getting the healthy relationship she needs with her little girl.

As for the documentary, criticizing the fans is probably warranted. Why we blindly follow someone just because we like the way they look or like their work makes zero sense. These are fallible, faulty, flawed human beings, just like us. They’re not gods or above reprieve. It’s not a good idea to be a fanatic.

For the rest of us who could have easily been part of that jury if only we knew less than they did about both parties, I think justice was served.

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