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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Friday, April 19, 2024

‘Depp v. Heard’ is a blistering look into a media-driven trial

The trial of the decade captivates once again in this new Netflix series.

Amber Heard and Johnny Depp are pictured.

Amber Heard and Johnny Depp are pictured.

Content warning: This article discusses domestic abuse.

“The John C. Depp, II v. Amber Laura Heard trial took place over six weeks beginning in April 2022. Depp and Heard testified two weeks apart. The footage of the trial has been edited together for clarity, allowing their accounts to be shown side by side for the first time.”

These words, written in white, appear in the beginning of Netflix’s new documentary series, “Depp v. Heard” (2023). Viewers can now watch, simultaneously, as the two A-list celebrities testify against each other in a Fairfax County, Va. courtroom, both for Depp’s $50 million lawsuit against Heard as well as her $100 million countersuit. The result is a deep and transfixing dive into the trial that captured the public’s attention for months. It’s also a warning about the effects social media and public opinion can have on a public figure if turned against them.

The documentary shows in great detail just how much the world was transfixed by this case. Footage from the courtroom is interspersed with clips of YouTubers, journalists and podcasters commenting on the trial as it unfolded. Directed by Emma Cooper, “Depp v. Heard” also shows the role X (formerly Twitter) and TikTok had in amplifying the case’s notoriety and details. Great attention is given through much of the three-part series on how social media and viral footage ran rampant with misinformation and bias during and after the trial.

This style also helps set up the background of the case; archival news footage from the couple's public split is interspersed with claims of domestic violence by Heard, her 2018 op-ed on said alleged abuse and Depp’s resulting defamation suit that led to Heard’s countersuit. 

The series takes time to show the beginning and more affectionate side of the couple’s relationship. We see the story of how they met on the set of “The Rum Diary” (2011), and it’s difficult to ignore how affectionately the two talk about their early days together and their wedding. This makes what comes next all the more difficult, as it’s gut-wrenching to listen to their descriptions of verbal and physical abuse.

The series forces its audience to confront their own biases and reactions to the virality of the trial, which is one of the most crucial reasons to put it on your watchlist. The treatment of Heard online is particularly highlighted and criticized. Supporters of Depp are shown harassing her as she arrives and leaves the courthouse, hurling threats at her in-person and online.

Phrases like “Mega Pint” and “Amber Turd” quickly turned into memes, and mixed with tangible evidence like cell-phone transcripts, they dominate the internet’s perception of the case. Content creators across X, TikTok and YouTube are shown latching onto the case to increase their followings, possibly increasing misinformation and commenting views without any objective analysis. The result is a sad and difficult portrayal of a case focused around domestic abuse becoming yet another internet joke.

Over a year after the verdict was reached, watching this series forces the audience to question their views of the case and realize how hard it is to support either side, especially with the revelations of the final episode. No one comes out of this trial unscathed, and as the director herself has stated, there’s no single story here. All that’s left is footage of a trial that dominated the internet and demonstrated the emerging and destructive power of social media in the context of a very serious and personal case.

Summary A fascinating recounting of a pop-culture-sensation of a trial that brought celebrity drama from the courtroom to the internet, and a pointed but necessary critique of social media’s effect on the public perception of Heard and Depp.
5 Stars