Johnny Depp has won his defamation suit against his former wife Amber Heard. The jury has awarded him $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. The real pay-out would be a few million less because of legal ceilings specific to Virginia where the case was fought.
Amber Heard has been awarded $2 million in defamatory damages on account of the adverse statements made by one of Depp’s former lawyers. Naturally, there is an attempt on the part of woke liberals to paint this as some sort of defeat to Depp.
It is not. Depp has won squarely in a fair trial adjudicated by a jury, though he was the perfect perpetrator — rich, powerful, white, and male — as the trial began. Six weeks later, we see if you are rich, powerful, white, and male, you could be a victim.
The Depp trial is not just a celebrity legal battle in distant America. It is a watershed moment in the gender war waged globally in the form of woke-liberal movements. Because they put feelings before facts, social media group rights movements took for granted victimhood at face value.
The movements, for historic reasons, perhaps justifiably, saw types, not individuals, in a given situation of the alleged abuse. Be it boardroom or bedroom, what women said would be the truth. No attention was paid to facts, context, agency, or the deep and very psychological need to validate one’s existence -- or one’s failure to authentically exist at the expense of victimhood. Breach of drawing-room decorum, jokes, and problematic pronouns, all were seen as the most traumatic incidents in one’s life. And, as often as not, it was an elite, privileged life. And so, too, careers were furthered. Fame was acquired. Laughs were had. The real victims meanwhile remained neglected.
And hearsay replaced facts, subverting the basic tenets of the English Common Law that a man or a woman was innocent until proved guilty. For the last six years, Depp was seen as a wife-beater and a perpetrator of domestic violence. Everything he had done in his remarkable life, from being a mother-abused boy to a rake, musician, artist, and superstar paled into insignificance in the last six years of the Deppian nightmare.
As individuals, almost all of us are redeemed by little acts of kindness, from feeding a stray dog to helping an old man cross a street. Depp had done more. Despite his substance-abusive behaviour and mental problems, he had donated millions to charity, worked closely with Make A Wish Foundation, and helped people. At home, toward the end of her life, Depp had been more than kind to his cruel and strange mother. He was generous to a fault to his friends. But none of it counted. Only the alleged wife-beating, the violent side of his character, and drug abuse were in focus. This is the magic of social media: the good is interred with our bones; the evil that men do lives after them in hashtags.
The 2018 op-ed article Heard wrote for The Washington Post appropriates for herself the role of a leader for women abused in workplaces and behind closed doors. During the trial, it came to light that the article was substantially edited/co-authored by a charity organization that Heard was associated with. It is another matter that this organization was trying its best to milk the Depp-Heard situation for its own benefit. Or that the compensation that the Depp had paid (about $7 million) Heard for donation to the same organization never found its way to it.
The Post had no qualms publishing a highly doctored and personally motivated piece of false righteousness and self-aggrandizement. At some point in the trial, when Heard was asked about a related question, she said she needed good press. Had Depp written the article alleging Heard of abuse, would The Post have carried it? Unlikely.
It is this bias, now gone over the top, that the Depp verdict is questioning. It is a verdict asking us to rethink. To accord a positive bias the sanctity of an axiom, and so condemn every man in any given case amounts to an absence of law. And increasingly this practice was being accepted as the norm.
In court, Depp played the role of his life. A role somewhat anticipated in a recent independent movie of his called The Professor, where he is misinterpreted as a misogynist academic when he is just a cynical individualist. The way Depp evenly and stoically delivered his dialogue through the worst periods of his life in that movie is exactly how he performed on the witness stand.
In direct contrast, Heard’s performance, bordered on hysteria. The idea was to convey to the jury that she was a victim and that her victimization was continuing inside the courtroom, an indescribable ordeal. When Camille Vasquez, the young and terrifying inquisitor in Depp’s team, began cross-questioning Heard, it emerged that Heard was lying and that Heard could be at least as violent as the man she was accusing of battery and sexual assault. Vasquez did the near-impossible. She asked Heard if she was not the real abuser. Had a male lawyer asked that question, there would have been more than objections raised in the courtroom.
At about this stage of the trial, the woke liberal narrative began to change. Heard was now portrayed as an ‘imperfect victim’. The subtext was that even if the facts were clear in favour of Depp, the ‘imperfection of the victims’ meant the facts were even more immaterial. There was just no way, the narrative said, a woman could be an abuser. It was unimaginable.
As it turns out, it is not that Heard is the imperfect victim so much as Depp being the ‘perfect’ victim: rich, successful, male, and white. The entire woke-liberal narration is based on the seeming impossibility that if you are rich, powerful, white (or a rosier version of brown), and male, you have to be a perpetrator, not a victim.
The great danger with this idea is that the individual merits of the case would never be in question. It is like a Kangaroo trial: if you are a Muslim, you surely must be more a terrorist than a Hindu.
We live in a deeply unhappy world. Injustice is the norm. Race, gender, religion, and inequality are all sources of that unhappiness. But to deny an individual justice because he belongs to a particular group, race, or gender is surely not the solution, but a variation of the problem itself?
In our times, when through social media any single aspect is amplified so the detail becomes the picture and echoes replace sound, we need fair trials more than ever. If feelings were more reliable than facts, my friend, my hands would always be red with your blood.
(C P Surendran is an author and senior journalist. Views are personal.)