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‘Depp v. Heard’ looks back at ‘trial by TikTok,’ but offers no new insight
Depp v. Heard is too close to its source material to offer any new context.
It’s been more than a year since the defamation trial of Johnny Depp versus Amber Heard concluded in Virginia. Is that enough time for a documentary about the chaotic trial to really have some resonance, to zoom out and make sense of what we all saw?
Potentially, if done well. The new Netflix doc Depp v. Heard isn’t it.
“pretty crazy that this benign barely informative ‘documentary’ has ppl realizing johnny depp is lowkey a pos & they were manipulated by that circus of a trial last yr,” said one tweet.
Depp v. Heard, the three-part series by former BBC producer Emma Cooper, relies on footage from the trial and courtroom testimony, and leans heavily on social media posts about it, but doesn’t offer any real analysis. Cooper doesn’t interview anyone involved in the trial for their thoughts on how it played out, or any content creators about their role in swaying public opinion.
Cooper defended not talking to any experts, telling Rolling Stone that she “wanted to keep it very pure in the world that we were in while we were watching [the trial].” She adds that Netflix was OK with this approach, and that she wanted to create a “balance” between the two testimonies, but that’s hard to do when the online opinion was so pro-Depp.
Seeing more of the damning evidence against Depp, removed from the frenzy of the trial, has made some people realize that they were wrong in their assessment of Heard, though it’s a little late for that.
Instead of new voices or info, we see the parade of alleged legal experts who became popular content creators, and a focus on some of the YouTubers who were loudest in their misogyny towards Heard, like Andy Signore, the Screen Junkies creator who was accused by former employees of sexual harassment and misconduct in 2017, and subsequently fired. (This is not mentioned in the doc.)
There’s a truly embarrassing scene at the end of the series, when Signore meets and hugs Depp and tells him he experienced something “similar.” Signore made a lot of money from the trial, and raised his profile as an advocate for men who feel they’ve been wrongly accused, but the larger implications of that shift aren’t explored.
Cooper also doesn’t dig into who potentially paid for the anti-Heard social media push around the trial; there’s an interview clip of Depp’s lawyer Camille Vasquez saying that definitely didn’t happen, and we’re supposed to just take her at her word.
Why it matters
Documentaries about the misogyny famous women experienced can change public opinion, but they often have to come out years later, viewed in a different light. Depp v. Heard is too close to its source material to offer any new context. And the climate of misogyny online is no different than a year ago.
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