Johnny Depp v Amber Heard: abuse accusations split Hollywood and public

The former couple’s ongoing divorce and restraining order proceedings have scandalized Hollywood, splitting celebrities and fans into warring factions

The very public accusations lobbed back and forth between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard - and their allies - have raised an ugly quandary of whom to believe in cases of alleged domestic violence.

Lawyers representing Johnny Depp and Amber Heard are set to appear in court on Tuesday regarding the former couple’s ongoing divorce and restraining order proceedings, which have scandalized Hollywood, splitting celebrities and fans into two warring factions.

Heard filed for divorce from Depp in May, and then requested a restraining order against him the following day, which was granted. The filing, which alleged that Depp assaulted her after a drunken argument, was accompanied by photographs of her bruised face, as well as pictures of smashed bottles in their Los Angeles apartment.

According to a statement from Heard, filed to the Los Angeles superior court, Depp “began obsessing over something that wasn’t true” in an event on 21 May. He “became extremely angry”, eventually throwing a phone at Heard, striking her cheek and eye “with extreme force”.

A separate statement from a friend of Heard’s who witnessed the scene, Raquel Pennington, supported Heard’s version of the events, including a description of Depp swinging a magnum-sized bottle of wine “like a baseball bat”. In her filing, Heard said that there had been a history of abuse by Depp, including one incident in December 2015 where she feared for her life.

Io Tillett Wright, another friend of Heard’s who was on the phone with her on the night of the alleged attack, and who called 911, wrote in an essay for Refinery 29: “The reports of violence started with a kick on a private plane, then it was shoves and the occasional punch, until finally, in December, she described an all-out assault and she woke up with her pillow covered in blood. I know this because I went to their house. I saw the pillow with my own eyes. I saw the busted lip and the clumps of hair on the floor.”

There was swift backlash against Heard from Depp’s fans, supporters, friends – and from some quarters of the media.

Lawyers for Depp rejected the allegations, saying Heard was trying to “secure a premature financial resolution by alleging abuse”.Comedian Doug Stanhope wrote a column for The Wrap claiming that Heard was “blackmailing” Depp.

Actor Paul Bettany tweeted: “known Johnny Depp for years and through several relationships. He’s the sweetest, kindest, gentlest man that I’ve ever known. Just saying”.

Heard’s lawyer, Peter Sample, denounced Stanhope’s comments as “absolutely and unequivocally false”, but that didn’t stop director Terry Gilliam from tweeting a link to Stanhope’s column and adding: “Like many of Johnny Depp’s friends I’m discovering that Amber is a better actress than I thought.”

Gloria Allred, a well-known lawyer who is representing some of the Bill Cosby accusers, said: “Famous men have fans ... and often the fans feel they know the celebrity from the characters they play in film or television, in theatre, in sports or in the political world. But the character they portray is not necessarily consistent with who the celebrity is in real life. In other words, their public image – which they often jealously guard and have public relations representatives promote – is often different than the person that they are in their personal lives, off the screen.”

Allred, with whom Heard has consulted, declined to comment directly about Heard and Depp, but said: “The public tends to bond with the celebrity over the victim.”

Joanna Pepin is a researcher at the University of Maryland who looked at public responses to domestic violence in 66 celebrity cases between 2009 and 2012. She found that it was “very common” for people to discount the allegations against popular celebrities, both by minimizing the severity of their crimes and by blaming the victims.

“So far the conversation [about Depp and Heard] has been consistent with what I found in my research,” she said. “Reports from Depp’s previous girlfriends, people that know him, that ‘he’s a great guy’, ‘he didn’t abuse me’, ‘he’s a great father’; these things are pretty typical in the articles I coded. The other thing was the victim-blaming in the articles against Heard – that she’s a gold-digger, somehow responsible for the violence.”

  • Correction: this article has been amended to reflect that Io Tillett Wright was not on the scene but rather on the phone to Heard at the time of the alleged attack, and called 911 remotely


Nicky Woolf in San Francisco

The GuardianTramp

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