Emma Cooper’s three-part Netflix docuseries “DEPP V HEARD” recontextualizes the disturbingly popular defamation trial between actor-exes Johnny Depp and Amber Heard.
On August 16th, Netflix premiered Depp v. Heard, a three-part documentary about Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s historic Virginia defamation trial. Though the seven-week trial concluded on June 1, 2022, with the court finding Heard liable on three counts of defamation (awarding Depp $10.35 million in damages) and Depp liable on one count of defamation (awarding Heard $2 million in damages), its ramifications continue to this day, including how Team Depp managed to rally a number of opportunistic online content creators to the Pirates of the Caribbean actor’s defence and weaponize social media against Heard.
This trial-turned-public spectacle centred on an op-ed Heard wrote in The Washington Post with the help of the ACLU, referring to herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse” who “spoke up against sexual violence.” And, despite the fact that neither party lives in Virginia and The Washington Post is not headquartered there, Depp’s team was allowed to utilise Virginia as a venue since the paper has servers there. It was also most likely a plan on the side of Team Depp, given that Virginia has some of the weakest anti-SLAPP statutes in the country — laws that shield persons from defamation actions — and permits its trials to be livestreamed with a judge’s permission.
While one fully expected Depp v. Heard to be an exploitative and empty affair, similar to Max’s recent documentary Kim Vs. Kanye: The Divorce, it instead serves as a valuable cultural corrective, recontextualizing the trial by analysing how social media was used to twist Heard’s testimony and damage her reputation, as well as the significant amount of pre-trial evidence supporting Heard that was somehow deemed inadmissible.