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Johnny Depp, Amber Heard and the role of the audience

Content Warning: Domestic abuse, sexual assault

Should viewing begin and end with the events that unfold on screen, or should the public audience take a moral stance on the actions of the actors that portray a story? 

The recent libel lawsuit between Johnny Depp and The Sun has brought this difficult question into the spotlight.

Despite Depp’s court action against The Sun newspaper’s use of the word ‘wife beater’ to describe the Fantastic Beasts actor, he was unsuccessful at overturning his recently tainted reputation. Mr Justice Nicol reinforced his decision by making the following statement, ‘I have found that the great majority of alleged assaults of Ms Heard by Mr Depp have been proved to the civil standard’, referring to a lawsuit between Depp and his ex-wife, Aqua Man actress Amber Heard. 

If this story feels familiar then that’s because it is. Many prominent celebrities that are continuing to perform are not only subject to the focus of camera lenses, but the focus of tabloid newspapers too, and not for good reason. 

The Fantastic Beast franchise in particular seems to be a production that has generated a huge amount of media attention, owing to JK Rowling’s Twitter Wars and Ezra Miller appearing to choke a female fan. The actions of these individuals affect the whole production, as well as the audience they inflict their drama upon in the outside world. There is something quite disturbing about when individuals of a show like the Fantastic Beast Franchise, with its didactic messages of love and care for unique creatures and others, don’t practice what their art preaches in real life. 

Occasionally, drastic action is taken, particularly in scenarios where no producer can realistically pretend as if nothing has happened due to the impending media and public backlash. Kevin Spacey, the disgraced House of Cards actor, is censored out of an entire movie because of the serious sexual assault allegations that broke after filming All the Money in the World. This decision certainly created the impression of respecting victims, with the creators having the necessary foresight to act swiftly and not air it with the Baby Driver actor as the lead. 

Matters become even more complex when both parties seemingly share the part of the victim? Both Depp and Heard share a common enemy, the media coverage surrounding their hostile divorce and their undoubtedly violent relationship. The Aqua Man actress, Ms Heard, is also pursuing a similar case with a newspaper that published defamatory comments about her. 

The question persists, whilst the battles are fought out in legal settings, what is the role of the audience? Should films be boycotted? Should demands to alter productions and castings for present and future filming be met?

Here we are, with the role we didn’t audition for: judge, jury and executioner. It would be futile to resist it, as there is some sort of magical on and off switch when it comes to real life events that occur outside of the realm of art. This collective voice can be a positive voice, as it can provoke change and empower the voices of victims. Yet how can we determine fact from fiction, in a scenario where the facts are so hotly contested? The Depp vs Heard saga, like the debate that once again arises from it, shows no time of ending any time soon.

Image: GabboT via Wikimedia Commons