The Disturbing Reaction to Amber Heard's Domestic Violence Allegations Against Johnny Depp: Why It Matters

No one wants Depp to be guilty, but why were so many people willing to immediately bash his accuser?

By Natalie Finn May 31, 2016 8:42 PMTags
Johnny Depp, Amber HeardMatt Roberts/Getty Images

Johnny Depp's daughter and his former partner of 14 years have vehemently defended his character. A good buddy of his insists the actor is being blackmailed. His attorney contends that Amber Heard's allegations are motivated by moneyHollywood Vampires went on stage in Lisbon with Depp on guitar as usual.

These are the people whom you would assume would be rallying around Depp, the movie star's tight-knit circle closing ranks and painting Heard's allegations that her husband of 15 months was physically and verbally abusive as desperate and patently false.

But why were so many more people, 99 percent of whom have never met the man and will never meet the man, so quick to brand Heard a liar? Not to mention a "gold digger" a "manipulator" and some far nastier words.

Not everyone piled on Amber, and most people, relative to how many there are on the earth, at least, didn't take any kind of public position. But many did, Facebook and Twitter feeds filling up with mostly pro-Johnny commentary. And that says so much about celebrity idol worship, misogyny (mostly the women-hating-women kind in this case), ageism (in reverse), jealousy and that rush to judge the accuser when a famous man is accused of doing something terrible, that it's impossible to pinpoint one sweeping sociological failing.

Of course there's also no exact "right" way to have reacted to the news, versus a "wrong" way, and believing in Depp's innocence until someone proves otherwise isn't "bad." But what has he ever done to deserve so many strangers' undying loyalty? Where was the #FreeAmber hashtag last Friday? Let's delve:

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Jason Merritt/Getty Images for PSIFF

First of all, many people probably wouldn't classify themselves as being against Heard; rather, they'd say they're just pro-Depp. And plenty of comments, such as these on Facebook in response to Live From E!'s conversation on the topic this morning and other stories about the case, would attest to that:

• "I'm on Johnny Depp's side. Johnny Depp just doesn't strike me as an abuser. I get that we don't know him personally but seriously, a man, who carries his Jack Sparrow costume on the go with him, abused his wife? I find that very hard to believe especially cuz a man with children, is most likely to be gentle and good spirited. It's just not fair to Johnny Depp."

• "Let's not forget his mother died!!!! This poor man has a bunch of crap being thrown at him all at once.......I can't say if any of Ambers allegations are true or not but I feel sorry for Johnny right now is all I'll say..."

So there's that. Then there's this:

• "Johnny didn't do it. She is so full of crap. She probably tripped and hit her face on something and decided to blame Johnny."

• "Amber reminds me of amy from gone girl"

• "And this is why older men should not marry younger girls. Stick 2 your age group that way life would be less stressful. Trying 2 tame someone half your"

• "Boy she must be FURIOUS that this game didn't play out like she thought"

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In filing for a temporary restraining order, which she was granted over the objections of Depp's attorney that he's not even in the country and is therefore not in need of restraint, Heard also requested $50,000 a month in spousal support to maintain the lifestyle to which she has become accustomed.

A judge denied that part of her petition, as well as her requests that Depp be ordered into a year of anger management counseling and a batterer's intervention program, pending a hearing on June 17.

And in what is perhaps the most disturbing anti-Heard stance of all, there are people who are shaming her for going public, wondering why, if her privacy's so important to her, she's telling people about what happened behind closed doors. That one is the real gut punch, considering how no one should be dissuaded from coming forward, or told it's not worth it to go to the police if they feel they've been violated.

• "If you are 'independent' as you claim to be keep your dignity and just walk away... ahhhh people..."

• "No one else has EVER claimed that Johnny Depp is a woman beater, his EX wife even defended him...hmmm Amber, falsehoods and lies will only hurt the one lying. Silence is golden...take a que from Johnny and shut it...whatever happened to ppl keeping their private life quiet??"

• "Jstf up already"

Do people just adore Johnny Depp that much?

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Sure, no one wants Johnny Depp to be guilty. He never seemed to be, and now we apparently know for sure he isn't, the type of celebrity who people root against. No one was waiting in the wings for that dratted Depp's comeuppance. 

For 30 years, he's been odd and gorgeous and interesting, his bad-boy hotel-trashing antics or the occasional high-profile breakup never doing much to besmirch his reputation for being delightful—on talk shows, in movies (no matter how much he insisted upon rendering himself unrecognizable 8 times out of 10) or on the street, the movie star consistently ranking high on these lists of celebs who are so nice when you ask for autographs or otherwise approach. He dresses like a rock star, the scarf and jewelry game sometimes getting out of hand but no matter, and speaks with an untraceable affectation that belies his Kentucky roots.

And that has all worked for him.

In fact, it really wasn't until he and Heard got together in 2012 that anyone started really questioning him, both personally and professionally. Sure, his co-star in The Rum Diary was stunning, but why her? And why get married? She's 22 years younger than him! How inappropriate! How cliché! It'll never last. Wow, The Lone Ranger sucked. His movies keep flopping. Newsweek inquired, after the divorce filing but before the abuse allegations were made public, "Has Johnny Depp Lost His Way?"

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So Heard has been the villain from the start, due in part to some old-fashioned hatin' for no reason, and also because of what can be described as a misplaced sense of ownership that fans have over their favorite stars.

The possessiveness doesn't have to be all-consuming—most of those who came out in force against Heard after her filing, and tenfold after the abuse accusations, probably don't spend that much time thinking about Johnny Depp on any given day. And yet it's there, that thrill of being judge and jury when it comes to what goes on in the lives of famous people. Hey, if we didn't feel a connection with (or an attraction to) a singer, or an actor, et al., why are we that interested in the first place?

But why don't we just feel utmost empathy for others when things go wrong and call it a day?

• "She's so full of it, it's laughable. I hope his lawyers eat her alive, because it's women like her that make it harder for true victims to find justice."

• "I have only one thing to say about all this: If Johnny did beat her once or more times she should have reported than or at least when she filed for divorce. Not when your request for spousal support was denied. Even if it's true, no one will believe her now."

Michael Simon/

Is Heard unbelievable and resented because she's so physically attractive? Because she's so much younger than him? Because she was fairly famous yet now is way more famous thanks to her superstar husband? Because his mother had just died? Because he had a big movie coming out this past weekend? Because she wants a lot of money?

So basically, people—the ones who have no personal connection to Depp, that is—have been trashing Amber Heard for no concrete reason, but for whichever reason makes her the shadiest accuser in their eyes. (Moreover, no one wants to have been wrong about devoting so much celebrity-crush energy to Depp.)

However, while he-said, she-said is the main topic, not all of the talk has been about what actually went on between these two.


The celebrity-motivated headlines have also started an important conversation about the nature of domestic violence, with many commenters talking about either being victims themselves or knowing someone who was or is, and how it's impossible to predict an abuser's behavioral patterns. There is also commentary about how difficult it can be for a third party to intervene, even if they suspect—or know for sure—that someone they know is being abused. And there are so many people who choose to stay silent, because the alternative seems worse—or not worth it.

Despite the flood of hate and skepticism, there is certainly applause for Heard for coming forward as well, with many calling her brave not just for speaking up but also for speaking up in the face of movie stardom and the multi-tentacled machine that is doing its best to discredit her.

Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

Someone—perhaps a number of people—could be lying, at least about something if not everything. There are usually no simple explanations when it comes to human behavior, whichever end of the spectrum it falls on. Most people aren't purely good, or purely bad. There are endless shades of gray to be discussed when it comes to whether a person deserves to be judged by one act, or forgiven, or presumed innocent, or presumed guilty.

No one wants to believe that Johnny Depp abused his wife, that such a capacity for violence was hiding in plain sight during all those years of drooling and admiring and ticket-buying. But we also don't want a climate in which Amber Heard is shamed for coming forward just because of who her husband is. That's the opposite of progress and fairness, and it feeds into an archaic way of thinking.

No matter what a judge decides, there are already no winners in this case. And our culture was just revealed to be a bit of a loser as well.

For more information on domestic abuse or to get help for yourself or someone you love, visit the website for The National Domestic Violence Hotline ( or call 1-800-799-7233.
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