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A frenetic scene is materializing four days a week at the Fairfax County Courthouse in Virginia as fans seek seats in the libel trial between Johnny Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard.
The queue to enter the courthouse begins before sunrise. Throughout the day, people appear carrying signs, wearing fan merch and costumes, even walking with a pair of alpacas. Almost all are there for Mr. Depp.
“We just want to support our captain,” said Jack Baker, 20, who arrived dressed as a Pirates of the Caribbean extra on Monday to shoot footage for his YouTube channel. “If he goes down with the ship, we go down with him.”
Maryam Alam, 29, and Alina Alam, 29, had hoped to enter the courthouse, but when they showed up at 7 a.m. they were already too late. Both grew up watching Mr Depp on screen – playing characters such as Edward Scissorhands, Captain Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka – and were eager to see him in person.
“It’s the fulfillment of a childhood fantasy,” Maryam said. “That’s why everyone is here.”
The high-profile celebrity cases have drawn large audiences since Court TV began broadcasting from courtrooms in the 1990s. But the trial of Mr Depp and Ms Heard has become a case study in what is happening. happens when complex claims are filtered through the lenses of stan culture and social media.
In addition to live coverage on TV, YouTube, and various news and entertainment websites, countless short clips edited for maximum virality have circulated on Instagram and TikTok — “fancams,” in the parlance social media, with forensic analysis of Mr. Depp and Ms. Heard’s trial and exchanges in the courtroom that have been described as “WILD”.
Mr Depp, 58, is suing Ms Heard, 36, over an essay she published in The Washington Post in 2018 on sexual violence, in which she described herself as a “public figure representing domestic violence”. Although Mr Depp was not named in the article, he argued it was clearly referring to him, damaging his reputation and career. (Ms. Heard filed for divorce in 2016 and, shortly thereafter, a restraining order against Mr. Depp, which was granted.) In his testimony, Mr. Depp denied ever hitting Ms. Heard and maintained that she was the aggressor in their relationship. The jury is simultaneously considering a counter libel suit by Ms. Heard against Mr. Depp.
Numerous accusations surfaced in 2020, in a defamation case Mr Depp brought against The Sun, a British newspaper which ran a headline calling him a ‘wife beater’. The judge ruled that the defendants had shown what they posted was “essentially true”, and Mr Depp lost the case.
Although the Virginia jury has been instructed to carefully weigh the evidence and reach a verdict only after testimony is complete (Ms Heard has yet to speak), and fan watchers have been told not to react. audibly or visibly to either party. in the courtroom, the rest of the world is under no such obligation.
In a TikTok video titled ‘AMBER HEARD CUGHT LYING AGAIN’, Ethan Trace (2.8m subscribers) happily recounts how Ms Heard’s lawyer told the court that the actress used a makeup palette to conceal the bruises Mr. Depp had given her during their marriage. The attorney held up a palette to reinforce her point, and while she didn’t name the brand, it was identifiable in the trial photos and video, and internet sleuths were quick to name the company, Milani Cosmetics.
Our coverage of the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial
A lawsuit between the once-married actors has become a fierce battleground for the truth about their relationship.
Milani, the brand, then posted a TikTok video saying the product featured by Ms Heard’s lawyer only became available after the couple split. (“Milani Cosmetics does not take a formal position on the trial, the evidence, or the future outcome of the case,” a spokeswoman wrote in a statement.)
“Boom!” says Mr. Trace in the video. “Milani Cosmetics: We love you! Thanks for sharing!” The video has over 16 million views.
In an email, Mr. Trace explained that he felt Mr. Depp had been treated unfairly by the media. “How could anyone talk about evidence that could possibly prove a man’s innocence after he was branded an ‘abuser’ in the public eye?” he wrote.
On April 13, shortly after testifying began, Gawker noted that the TikTok hashtag #justiceforjohnnydepp had received 1.1 billion views. In two weeks, that number has more than quadrupled. As of this writing, #justiceforamberheard has 22 million views.
Ms. Heard’s supporters hope her testimony will change the dialogue surrounding the trial. “Instead of watching all these TikToks and stuff, I think people should actually follow the case,” 22-year-old Carmen Diamandis said.
“Stans will literally go to any lengths to defend anyone,” he said of Mr Depp’s supporters, adding: “Amber Heard, she doesn’t have that fan base.”
Marianne Nafsu, 32, a true crime content creator from Detroit who has published about the case, said, “I can’t wait to hear her side when she goes to trial.” She added that “it is right to listen to both sides and see: where is all this coming from?”
When asked to comment on the fan response, Ms Heard’s lawyers provided her friend Eve Barlow, a music journalist who tweeted in support of Ms Heard.
Johnny Depp’s defamation case against Amber Heard
In the courtroom. A libel lawsuit involving once-married actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard is currently pending in Fairfax County Circuit Court in Virginia. Here’s what you need to know about the case:
“The social media landscape is shockingly brutal for Amber,” Ms Barlow wrote in an email, adding that many of the comments on TikTok and Twitter reflect “misogynistic hatred.” Representatives for Mr. Depp did not respond to a request for comment.
Rachel Louise Snyder, the author of ‘No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us’, acknowledged in an interview that Mr. Depp has certain advantages over Ms. Heard in court. public opinion.
“People will do without the same critical eye they would give anyone else when it comes to someone who is truly a beloved figure,” she said. Ms Snyder added that the case offers a potential counter-narrative to common misconceptions about abuse: who can perpetuate it and who can be victimized.
“We don’t see the victims as rich. We do not consider the victims as men. We don’t see abusers as women,” she said. “I’m not saying she’s an aggressor and he’s a victim. I’m just saying that we have the opportunity to examine our own myths and stereotypes around ‘Who is the victim and who is the aggressor?’ (Severe physical violence affects one in four women, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and one in seven men.)
On TikTok, many of Mr Depp’s supporters posted a recording in which Ms Heard said: “Tell the world, Johnny, tell them: ‘I, Johnny Depp, a man, am also a victim of domestic violence'”. and continues: “See how many people believe or side with you.”
Scout Robert, 24, was taken aback by Ms Heard’s words. “When she said that, she told the world that as a man you can’t be mistreated,” she said in an interview. Ms Robert, who has more than 40,000 followers on TikTok, has posted numerous videos on the platform, in which she called Ms Heard a liar, an abuser and a hypocrite. Some have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.
Ms Robert said she felt the #MeToo ‘believe women’ slogan had become overused. Instead, she said, people should “listen to women”, while recognizing “that men can also be victims of domestic violence”.
Ms Snyder, similarly, thinks the Depp trial could spark more nuanced conversations about abuse and how it doesn’t always fit within clearly prescribed boundaries.
“Maybe he’s a victim, maybe he’s an abuser, maybe he’s a bit of both,” she said. “Same for her.”
Michael Lee Pope contributed reporting from Fairfax, Virginia.
Sound produced by Adrian Hurst.