by Melissa Folmann, May 08, 2022.

Elyse, a 20-year-old from Chicago and a dedicated Johnny Depp fan, is convinced that the bruises on Amber Heard’s face are fake. Over Twitter DMs, Elyse tells me that she holds a lifelong fascination with special-effects makeup, blessing her with unique investigatory insight into the reddish swelling that appeared under Heard’s right eye in photos that circulated through the press in 2016. That same year, Heard claimed that her injuries were the result of Depp flinging an iPhone at her in one of his many violent outbursts. Elyse is less convinced. In fact, like so many other freshly radicalized Johnny Depp supporters, she’s certain that there’s a conspiracy afoot.

“I ​could tell you right there that it was makeup because of the shaping and coloring,” she says. “Not to mention I’m chronically ill and I have a ton of bruises from everything, and not one ever looked like that. Now, I’m a feminist, and I really didn’t say anything on the matter until I gathered all the details since I give the victim the benefit of the doubt, but once I gathered information, I just knew there was something really fishy going on.”

The Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard saga is protracted, labyrinthine, and almost impossible to recount succinctly, but I’ll try to do my best to catch you up. They met on the set of 2011’s The Rum Diary, started dating in 2012, and married in 2015; Heard filed for divorce 15 months later, seeking a restraining order against Depp due to what she alleged was a bevy of harrowing verbal and physical abuse. Two years after finalizing the split, Heard wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post about her recovery from spousal trauma, a piece that never named Depp directly. Still, the actor — who was already mired in mounting financial troubles — sued his ex-wife for $50 million on the grounds of defamation, effectively claiming that Heard’s domestic violence denunciations were fabricated. In fact, Depp went as far as to assert that he was the true victim, and that Heard was frequently aggressive and cruel toward him throughout their romance.

“Ms. Heard is not a victim of domestic abuse, she is a perpetrator,” reads Depp’s complaint, per Vulture, adding that her claims were part of an “elaborate hoax to generate positive publicity for Ms. Heard and advance her career.”

Everyone can now witness the ugly fruits of this fracas live on TV, as the grim courtroom proceedings of Depp v. Heard trickle into the public square. Legal experts are skeptical that Depp will win the case, and there’s already precedent for him losing this particular fight against Heard: His 2020 complaint against the Sun failed after he served papers to the tabloid for referring to him as a “wife beater.” Depp’s contentions of his victimhood also ring hollow; the aforementioned Vulture story contains some outstandingly horrific texts that Depp sent about Heard, which I won’t republish here, that seem to be right in line with Heard’s accusations of abuse.

That said, evidence presented in the trial has backed up some of Depp’s defenses against Heard’s charges. Last week, the jury listened to an audio recording in which Heard admitted to “hitting” Depp, though the specifics of the context remain unclear. (At one point, Heard can be heard saying, “I can’t promise you I won’t get physical again. God, I fucking sometimes get so mad I lose it.”) The deeper you dig into this story, the more it reveals an absurdly toxic marriage between two people who are viciously unloading their dirty laundry in broad daylight for the leery, cynical celebrity press. But I don’t think anyone could’ve expected the groundswell of digital solidarity around Depp’s dubious guiltlessness, particularly among young people.

“Many people in this community are either victims themselves or have known people who are victims” of domestic abuse, continues the activist I spoke to. “Johnny speaking out and saying firmly that he is a victim and this is what it’s like to go through this is giving us all a voice. … For me it’s incredibly inspiring to see him stand up against all the hate and say, ‘No this is the truth.’ It’s given me courage to speak about my story too.”

They sum up the cause this way: “At the end of the day, we are so passionate about this not because we love Captain Jack Sparrow but because we want to raise awareness for a very real issue that is often brushed under the rug.”

All that said, I’m still suspicious as to whether the #DeppJustice push is entirely grassroots. It is impossible to take any roiling discourse at face value in 2022, so I’m not surprised by the Fox News report that about 11 percent of all Twitter accounts participating in the conversation are bots, with a majority of them taking Amber Heard’s side. There is ample opportunity for scammers to cash in on any demarcation line in the culture war, and those interlopers have almost certainly signal-boosted the drama to its current keening apogee. (To reiterate: Surely it can’t be possible that this many people still care about Johnny Depp.) We should keep in mind during every social media cycle that all the histrionics might not be what it seems.

This won’t matter much to those who have already fully committed themselves to the #DeppJustice cause. They’ve consolidated their consensus, no matter what happens in the courtroom. Elyse tells me that when she was young, she met Depp on a film set near her hometown. She handed him a drawing of Jack Sparrow, and he gave her a hug. That’s all Elyse needed to believe, in her heart of hearts, that she’s on the right side of history. “His kindness that day was something that has genuinely stuck with me since it happened,” she says. It’s a lovely memory, and I hope those taking advantage of her trust have trouble sleeping at night.



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