New Netflix series 'Depp v. Heard' revisits defamation trial 2
The 2022 defamation trial of Amber Heard (left) and Johnny Depp captivated fans around the world. Image: Steve Helber/Pool/AFP
Culture

New Netflix series 'Depp v. Heard' revisits defamation trial

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard's cinematic defamation trial has now inspired a Netflix series. How has the affair affected the US actors' public image?
Verena Greb | Aug 16 2023

In June 2022, the Johnny Depp ("Pirates of the Caribbean") vs. Amber Heard ("Aquaman") defamation trial came to an end. Now, the world will have the opportunity to review the highlights of this dispute between the two actors and former couple in a Netflix miniseries.

Starting Wednesday, August 16, the streaming service will show the three-part "Depp v. Heard," directed by Emmy and BAFTA nominee Emma Cooper ("The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes").

The trial, broadcast live by the US Law & Crime network, drew social media comments to a degree never seen before and became a huge media spectacle.

According to Netflix, the documentary is the first to juxtapose key statements made in the trial by the two parties involved. It is also said to be about the truth, as such: The truth about who attacked whom in what way during the marriage, which lasted only 15 months, and who simply made up accusations. The docuseries also asks whether the spectacle of the trial wasn't, in the end, also a kind of promotional campaign for the two stars.

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Public was overwhelmingly pro-Depp, anti-Heard 

The case divided the public, and "Depp v. Heard" also seeks to analyze the extent to which the media hype may have influenced the outcome of the trial. Hashtags like #AmberHeardIsALiar or #JusticeForJohnny seemed to set the direction that the civil trial would take.

In the end, Heard was found guilty of defaming Depp, and was ordered to pay him $10 million (€9.2 million) in compensation for lost wages. He, in turn, was ordered to pay her $2 million for defamatory statements made by his former lawyer, Adam Waldman.

The lawyers for both parties initially appealed the verdict, but Heard waived her appeal in December 2022.

Can a trial played out before the eyes and ears of the global public, one that illustrates scenes of a toxic relationship — including unsavory details such as messages written in blood and feces on bed linens — ever have a winner? Does anyone emerge unscathed from a trial of that nature?

 

Post-trial support for Heard

In contrast to last year, in 2023 the hashtag #IStandWithAmberHeard has been trending. It unites the voices of those who have called the trial unfair, who have condemned the social media hate campaign against Heard, and who still believe her version of the story.

Posts using the hashtag have also criticized the power imbalance of the situation, pointing out that Depp is the richer, older and more famous of the two.

Amber Heard (center) presented her latest film at the Taormina Film Festival in July
Amber Heard (center) presented her latest film at the Taormina Film Festival in July. Image: Maurizio D'Avanzo / ipa-agency.n/picture alliance

Some journalists have likewise sided with Heard. They said the trial has legitimized an anti-feminist backlash, or that it has resulted in Heard being blamed for the supposed demise of the #MeToomovement. 

Heard herself has expressed deep disappointment with the outcome of the trial. "The disappointment I feel today is beyond words," she wrote last June on what was then called Twitter, expressing heartbreak at the fact that the "mountain of evidence" she presented was not enough to sway the jury. She described the verdict as a "setback" for other women in a similar situation.

 

Heard on acting hiatus 

According to the US magazine People, the 37-year-old Heard has not yet taken any new acting jobs. But she did make her first post-trial public appearance at the Taormina Film Festival in Italy last month.

Presenting her film, "In the Fire," made before the trial began, she appeared relaxed. As she shared on her Instagram account, she was warmly welcomed in Italy, and she thanked her fans for that. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Amber Heard (@amberheard)

Another film starring Heard is scheduled for release in December. She plays the role of Mera in the superhero film "Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom," directed by James Wan and produced by DC Studios. It was also filmed before the trial. 

A petition on change.org has called for her role to be edited out of the movie completely. So far, more than 4.5 million people have signed the petition, but to no avail. Still, it's unclear when Heard may appear in any future productions.

 

Depp gives up Hollywood for music 

The low point of Depp's career came in 2018, when ex-wife Heard wrote a guest article in The Washington Post about surviving domestic violence. Depp was not mentioned by name, but the article is alleged to have damaged his reputation and career.

Depp lost the roles of Captain Jack in a planned sixth "Pirates of the Caribbean" film and Gellert Grindelwald in the "Harry Potter" spinoff "Fantastic Beasts" shortly after the article was published. In 2019, he sued Heard for defamation, seeking damages. She, in turn, filed a countersuit, arguing her right to free speech. The lawsuits went to court in Virginia, beginning in April 2022.

Depp performed with the band Hollywood Vampires in July 2023 at London's O2 Arena
Depp performed with the band Hollywood Vampires in July 2023 at London's O2 Arena. Image: Martin Harris/picture alliance

In the aftermath of the trial, Depp returned to music, the industry where he had originally wanted to build a career. He toured with the band Hollywood Vampires and with guitarist Jeff Beck, with whom Depp also recorded an album.

It features two songs written by Depp, one of which, "Sad Motherf*ckin' Parade," has been interpreted as a dig at his ex-wife.

Depp, on the other hand, has since taken an obvious swipe at Hollywood. At the premiere of "Jeanne du Barry," his first film following the trial, at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, Depp said he no longer needed Hollywood.

In the French historical drama, the 60-year-old Depp plays King Louis XV alongside the titular courtesan, embodied by Maiwenn, who also directed the film.

This article was originally written in German.

Correction, August 14, 2023: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the amount that Amber Heard was ordered to pay in compensation. DW apologizes for the error.