Hear that nervous click-click? It’s the sound of celebrities quietly removing their likes from the victorious Instagram statement Johnny Depp posted after winning his libel case against his ex-wife, Amber Heard, earlier this year. Approximately a gazillion words have been written about the case, so I’m sure I don’t need to recap it. In brief, though, Depp sued Heard for a 2018 op-ed piece in which she said she was a victim of domestic violence but didn’t explicitly name him as the culprit. The televised trial was a sickeningly sordid spectacle – one lawyer described it as the “litigation equivalent of Squid Game”. Heard endured merciless mocking and walked away with her reputation in tatters, while Hollywood largely rallied around Depp.
Now, however, it seems that attitudes toward Depp might be souring. Twitter detectives have noticed that more than a dozen celebrities appear to have “unliked” the actor’s Instagram post over the past two months. That list includes Bella Hadid, Halle Bailey, Amanda Knox(!) and a bunch of other people I’ve never heard of but are apparently very famous.
What could be behind this Great Unliking? Probably the fact that more than 6,000 pages of court documents were recently unsealed, providing a lot of unpleasant new information about Depp. Funnily enough, Depp fans were the ones responsible for thrusting this information into the public eye – they crowdfunded the fees required to get hold of the unsealed documents, which contain allegations that lawyers for Depp and Heard managed to keep out of the trial itself. The idea was to dig up dirt on Heard, but their efforts seem to have backfired: the documents are packed with nasty nuggets of information about Depp and illuminate the extent to which his legal team weaponised misogyny throughout the trial.
One of the nastiest bits of information in the documents might be the claim that Depp’s legal team tried to submit “nude pictures” of Heard into evidence and attempted to bring up her “brief stint as an exotic dancer”. It’s not clear what nude pictures they were referring to, and these were ultimately not relied on in the trial. But, in 2014, Heard’s iCloud account was hacked and hundreds of naked photos of her were released online, causing her understandable distress. If Depp did try to have these photos trotted out in a televised trial, it looks a lot like revenge porn – pure nastiness designed to humiliate Heard. It’s also a horrible reminder that if a woman doesn’t lead a perfectly chaste life, the world will find a way to cast her as a “slut” who is responsible for anything that happens to her.
It has been reported that in the unsealed documents were: text messages from Depp’s then assistant about the time the actor allegedly “kicked” Heard on a flight; Depp’s legal team’s cynical attempt to implicate Heard in the death of a friend who died in a car accident; the fact that Heard willingly walked away from “tens of millions of dollars” she was entitled to in her divorce proceedings with Depp; a statement from Depp saying Heard had never caused him physical or mental injury; disturbing text messages between Depp and the musician Marilyn Manson, who has been accused of abuse by more than a dozen women, all of which he denies; claims that photos and audio tapes submitted by Depp had been digitally manipulated and edited.
While none of this makes Depp look good, it is important to note that it’s not as if he looked like a boy scout in the first place. This is a guy who lost a libel case against the Sun in 2020 after the newspaper described him as a “wife beater”. This is a guy who joked with a friend about how they ought to murder Heard. “Let’s drown her before we burn her!!!” he wrote. “I will fuck her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she’s dead.” Depp has a well-documented history of toxic behaviour and yet, throughout the trial, there was a very long line of people ready to dismiss his bad behaviour while jumping on any excuse to paint Heard in a negative light. Will the information in the court documents significantly change people’s minds about Depp and Heard? Beyond some celebrities distancing themselves from Depp, I doubt it. If the trial showed us anything, it’s that misogyny is more alluring to many people than facts.
• Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist
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