When Amber Heard and Johnny Depp got together a few years ago, I was among the collective that side-eyed the union intensely. Why would he end a fourteen-plus year relationship with Vanessa Paradis, a woman I considered queenly? Why would Amber Heard even want to marry him in the first place? I didn’t get too emotional about it apart from a few “LOVE IS DEAD” posts on social media, and that was that.
I used to love Johnny Depp. I mean: Edward Scissorhands? Yes. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? Boy, you’re a genius. Sweeney Todd? AHH SLAY (literally). My seven-year-old
is was a huge Captain Jack Sparrow fan, and the Pirates movies are were a staple in our household. Note: Those cross-outs are intentional, because we don’t get behind domestic violence in this home, and in the past few weeks it’s become clear to many of us that Johnny Depp is very likely an abuser.
Domestic violence looks like a lot of different things, and abusers don’t fit one stereotype. Sure, my dad was an abuser, but they aren’t all paunchy, poor southern white guys with a drinking problem. Some of them are millionaires. In fact, some of them are millionaire movie stars that we all think are super hot. You can’t spot an abuser on the street. You can’t, in fact, always spot them when you’re on a first date with one. Sometimes you can’t even spot them when you’ve been married for a year and he’s never laid a hand on you until now.
Domestic violence also isn’t just a physical thing—someone doesn’t have to throw a phone at your face for it to be domestic violence. Any violent behavior that happens in your home—any violent behavior that provokes or incites fear—is domestic violence. Smashing plates, hitting a hole in the wall. Throwing your stuff around the room or in the yard. Kicking your dog, breaking your laptop. Yelling at you until you’re crouched in a corner, sobbing uncontrollably. I know this, because I’ve lived it.
I grew up living under the thumb of a man who felt powerless in most of the world, and who exploited what little power he felt he had over my mother, myself, and my three siblings. Domestic violence is weird. Not everyone who experiences it has the same reaction, or even the same memories. If you get me in a room with my siblings, you’re going to get four different stories about what it was like to grow up with him. If you add my mom, you’re going to get the closest version to the truth.
But back to Amber.
In case you’re sitting there like, “Whoa, I have no idea what’s going on. Johnny Depp did… what?” allow me to fill you in. Here’s a woman-first list that summarizes what’s been going down in Hollywood:
On May 25, Amber Heard filed for divorce from Johnny Depp. I, along with many on the Internet who follow celebs, begin speculating about what went wrong. I think the initial assumption was that they got married too quickly, he had a midlife crisis, or she’s awful (because it’s always the she that’s awful). Two days later, Amber filed a request for temporary restraining order, and leveled allegations of domestic violence against Depp. This is where things immediately shifted from “Ha, OMG, celeb drama” to “Holy shit, what happened?” for me. Her team released photos of her bruised face (along with details of what went down), while Johnny Depp’s team started firing out photos of him helping an elderly lady with her hearing aid.
Unfortunately for Amber Heard and her team, it seems like this is where much of the general public decided full stop that she was a gold-digging bitch who was only after money, not, you know, a victim of domestic violence committed to exposing her (alleged) attacker. The LAPD issued a statement insisting that they saw no evidence of domestic violence when they visited the Depp-Heard home, despite the claim that Amber in fact gave police a statement. Amber Heard’s team proceeded to release detail after detail, photo after photo, all in the face of allegations that she was making the entire thing up… and we ask ourselves why women take “so long” to leave their abusers. Why women wait “so long” to report years of abuse. We ask ourselves why women stay.
To add on to the pile-on, celebrities started coming out in favor of Depp on May 28 (Paul Bettany and Terry Gilliam revealed themselves to be a wildly disappointing sad men), while Amber released an official statement about the years-long abuse. (FYI survivors, it’s pretty horrifying… so tread lightly.) Johnny’s most recent ex released a statement defending him. On May 29, surprise, surprise, Depp’s presumably well-paid PR team stated that Amber has been making up her allegations because of all the negative press she’s been getting. It’s worth noting that the negative press initially stemmed entirely from the Depp machine, and Amber Heard’s lawyers tried to keep the divorce proceedings quiet until said machine ramped up. The media continues to blame anyone and everyone except Johnny Depp. I mean, Amber is publicly out as being bisexual, so that’s probably what this is really about, right?
On May 30, celebrities who have zero fucks left to give (I see and salute you, Busy Phillips and Amanda de Cadenet) came out in support of Amber. The next day, Amber Heard’s team released one of the most powerful statements I’ve read on domestic violence. This was followed by the release of more details of abuse (again, this could be triggering, so know yourselves) that span the years that the two were together. Yesterday, texts from Amber to Depp’s assistant, Stephen, were released (meanwhile, Depp was photographed arguing with his bodyguard at 2am). The implication? The abuse isn’t anything new.
I have been following the story closely since it broke, and I’m ashamed to admit my very initial reaction upon hearing that she had filed for divorce (before the abuse allegations were made public) was to find a GIF of Vanessa Paradis shaking her head because I was all “Aww, girl. Why did he ever leave you?!” Whatever, I suck. But the situation escalated rapidly, and by the end of the day, allegations of abuse had come out. Things got real, and I realized people were having four main reactions:
1. there’s no way Johnny depp did this. he seems so nice/makes great movies/I’ve loved him since I was two. Hi, everyone in this camp. I like you, maybe, but I need to tell you why this is the worst camp. Unless you are Johnny Depp’s seventeen-year-old daughter or his fourteen-year-old son, you have no place here. Making movies you like doesn’t mean he’s not an abuser, and being the champion for lovable weirdos doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least consider these allegations. I invite you to read both sides of the story, and ask yourself this: What does Amber Heard really stand to gain here?
2. she’s a gold digger/after his money/such a bitch. Here’s some truth for you: these two didn’t sign a prenup, and Amber Heard will get half of what Johnny Depp made while they were married no matter what. Allegations of domestic abuse make the situation more messy and painful (and they’re absolutely terrifying to launch), but they don’t change the financial outcome. She didn’t need money. She needed her freedom.
3. innocent until proven guilty! Guess what? We’re not a jury. If you want to believe he’s innocent until a court says he’s not, sure, go for it. That is important in a courtroom. Otherwise, we would find ourselves systematically prosecuting innocent people based on how we feel about them (oh, but wait… we do that anyway). But I invite you to consider the many ways “innocent until proven guilty” is used to give credence to the people society tells us are good—while never being applied to the powerless.
Johnny Depp is a wildly powerful, wildly wealthy (net worth: approximately $400 million) white man. Amber Heard is a pretty young female actress, who we’ve been taught to think is probably out for his money. So, when it comes to Amber, why can’t you find it in yourself to also consider that maybe she’s not lying? Is it at all possible that our brains are socially programmed for implicit bias, which leads us to trust the powerful somewhat reflexively?
Consider this. What kind of machine is she up against? What does she stand to gain from going after one of the most powerful white men in the world? We, fellow women, have the ability to believe the victim. You know what happens when we do that? We build an even better community in which potential abusers don’t abuse because they realize they can’t get away with it. Why do we use the presumption of innocence as a crutch when we want it, but totally drop it when it doesn’t fit with what we want the truth to be?
4. I support her. I don’t even care. Hey guys, you’re the best ones.
Domestic violence is terrible. It’s a sickness, it pervades your very being, it gets into every single part of your life. One in five women and one in seven men have been victims of violence in their homes, and only 34 percent of victims receive medical care for injuries that result from this violence (because hello, it’s scary as hell to even think about reporting your abuser).
When I was growing up, I didn’t realize that my reality wasn’t the reality of other people that I knew. I didn’t realize that people lived with fathers who didn’t terrorize them, lived with mothers who didn’t have time for long talks and fun chats over snacks because they were constantly trying to keep their children alive. I didn’t even realize that what my father was doing to all of us was systematically wrecking our lives for years. I didn’t realize any of this until I was almost a teenager.
In the United States more than ten million women and men are victims of domestic violence a year, and a woman is assaulted or beaten every nine seconds. Do something with me: close your eyes, and count slowly to nine. Do it again. Do it a third time. That’s three women, right there, just in the last twenty-seven seconds.
Why is it so hard to believe that Amber Heard was one of them?
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, we encourage you to reach out the the National Domestic Violence Hotline.