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Johnny Depp, Amber Heard and the Hollywood movie that should never have been made.

This post deals with allegations of domestic violence and sexual assault, and could be triggering for some readers.

10 years ago, a little book called Gone Girl hit the shelves. 

It was a risk for the publishing industry, a thriller with a mid-book twist and an unlikeable female lead. 

It took everything we thought we knew about violence against women and turned it on its head. To put things into perspective, the brutal, calculated 2002 murder of Laci Peterson and her unborn child, and the subsequent trial and conviction of her all-American husband Scott, had been playing out in the media for the previous decade. So had the mysterious death of Kathleen Peterson at the bottom of a flight of stairs in December 2001, and the ongoing trials of her affluent crime writer husband Michael. 

The stories of husbands and boyfriends and exes and fathers hurting the ones they're supposed to love the most were part and parcel of the nightly news, squeezed in between stories of stock market crashes and cute baby pandas being born in the zoo. 

By 2012, we knew that 'good family men' could carry out unspeakable acts under the cover of darkness, and we could never truly know what goes on behind closed doors. 

A husband beating up or murdering his wife was no longer surprising. But a wife murdering a husband, or a wife setting her husband up for her own murder or falsely accusing him of abuse - that was the stuff that could really sell newspapers and drive clicks to websites. 

This probably, in part, explains Gone Girl's popularity. It gave us a glimpse into a world that we didn't see on the nightly news or read about in the newspaper near enough. It took a well-worn narrative and flipped it on its head. It deconstructed the modern marriage and made us look at our husbands, wives, and next-door neighbours differently. 

And it was a bloody fun read. Nick and Amy Dunne were both terrible people who did terrible things to each other. The mid-book twist was a stroke of genius and Amy Dunne continues to be one of the greatest villains in modern literature. 

By 2014, we already had a movie adaptation starring Ben Affleck as the all-American Nick Dunne (his striking resemblance to Scott Peterson not lost on many) and Rosamund Pike as the stunningly cool, deceptive Amy. The movie, which was a box office hit, only served to further cement the 'gone girl' narrative into the zeitgeist. 

Image: 20th Century Studios.  

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Soon, whenever a woman showed any sign of deceit, she was dubbed an 'Amy Dunne', with people gleefully announcing that she'd 'done a Gone Girl'. 

In 2016, when Californian woman Sherri Papani vanished into thin air only to emerge, bloody and bruised, on the side of a freeway three weeks later, it was impossible not to compare her case to Gone Girl. 

Like Amy, Sherri was an attractive blonde woman in her mid-30s. Her husband, Keith, had the clean-cut good looks of Nick Dunne. As soon as parts of her story began to filter into the media, people began to question it. It didn't add up. Something was amiss. 

In 2022, six years after her mysterious disappearance, Sherri was arrested by the FBI. 

She was an attractive, blonde woman who seemed to 'have it all' and she'd made the whole thing up. She was a real life Amy Dunne. 

She confirmed for many that women like Amy Dunne existed in real life. 

But here's the thing: Amy Dunne and Sherri Papani are the exception to the rule. Not the rule. 

While the world was focused on Sherri Papani's thrilling tale of deceit, countless other women were murdered by those they trusted or snatched in the middle of the night by an opportunistic killer. 

Sherri's story dominated headlines, online forums, group chats, and dinner party conversations because it was interesting. It was fun. It wasn't the norm. 

While women continue to be victims of men's violence - in Australia alone we lose on average one woman a week to men's violence - it's rarely these stories that pique our interest and create a media frenzy. 

The exception will always be more interesting than the norm. And as humans, we're drawn to interesting stories.

Now, more than ever, we're aware of the insidious nature of family and domestic violence, of sexual assault, of seemingly 'good blokes' doing terrible things and getting away with it. 

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Over the past five years, we've watched the #MeToo movement play out in Hollywood, with some of the industry's most successful women finally bravely coming forward to tell their stories of sexual assault and harassment. It was a reckoning of sorts and felt like a turning point. 

But I can tell you as someone who works in the media, these still aren't the stories that people click on. Our readers are far more likely to click on a story about Melissa Caddick or Belle Gibson, women who are the exception, not the rule. Women whose stories involve unbelievable plot twists and feel like they're destined for a six-part HBO series. 

Our thirst for interesting stories, for the macabre, the outrageous, and the unthinkable, has only increased. 

On the other side of the coin, the Men's Right Activist (MRA) movement has never been bigger. The chant of 'Not All Men' has never been louder. 

The push and pull between these two sides has never been more ferocious. Leading feminists and MRAs fight it out on social media. People cheer outside of courtrooms when rape convictions are overturned. Every time a woman is found not to be a credible witness, or to be a liar, their story holds more weight than the stories of all the women who will never get justice for the crimes committed against them. 

You're probably asking yourself what all of this has to do with Johnny Depp, Amber Heard, and the defamation case that has just played out in a Virginian court. 

And the answer is everything. 

This is the world the Johnny vs Amber case was born into. 

A world hungry for interesting stories. A world that has blurred the lines between fact and fiction, a good narrative and the truth. 

A world looking for its next Amy Dunne.

And Johnny and Amber's story is fit for a Hollywood movie. Its leading man is an actor who many women developed a crush on in their teen years when he starred in cult movies like Edward Scissorhands and What's Eating Gilbert Grape. The now 58-year-old actor later won over a legion of male fans through his role as the loveable, roguish Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. 

Depp has a quirky, mysterious, almost rockstar aura about him. He has a long history of bankable film roles and famous ex-girlfriends. He's Hollywood royalty. A star who has stood the test of time. And whose famous ex-girlfriends are more than ready to defend his good nature in public. 

Image: Getty.  

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Amber Heard, on the other hand, was just starting out in the industry when she met Depp in 2011 on the set of The Rum Diary. 

She was an attractive young actress, hungry for success, and he was a veteran of the industry who could open doors for her. They started dating in 2012 and married in 2015 at a civil ceremony. By mid-2016, Heard had filed for divorce. 

At the time, court documents from the settlement were obtained by the press which revealed Heard was seeking a temporary restraining order against Depp, alleging she’d been subjected to verbal and physical abuse after a drunken argument in their LA apartment. The court documents claimed that Depp "became extremely angry", throwing a phone at Heard, hitting her cheek and eye "with extreme force".

In August 2016, the former couple settled their divorce, and the domestic abuse case against Depp, after Heard withdrew her request for a temporary restraining order. "Our relationship was intensely passionate and at times volatile, but always bound by love," the former couple said in a statement.

As part of the settlement, Depp paid Heard US$7 million, which she planned to split evenly between two charities.

Then, in December 2018, The Washington Post published an op-ed written by Heard about her experience with domestic abuse.

Although Heard didn't mention Depp by name, she gave insight into what happened when she became "a public figure representing domestic abuse", and how she was left to endure "the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out".

In early 2019, Depp sued Heard for US$50 million for defamation over the op-ed, which "depended on the central premise that Ms. Heard was a domestic abuse victim and that Mr. Depp perpetrated domestic violence against her."

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That's the case that has just been heard in Virginia. 

Over seven weeks, Depp, Heard, and an eclectic group of celebrities took the stand to testify about what they had experienced or witnessed during the couple's short, tumultuous relationship. 

From the outset, it was obvious this court case was unlike any we'd seen play out before it. While most allegations of domestic abuse rely on he said/she said testimony, Heard came to court with a mountain of evidence. Over their relationship, she had secretly recorded Depp during their altercations. She also took photos of her alleged injuries and photos of Depp passed out on the couch, surrounded by an array of alcohol and drug paraphernalia. 

The whole scene felt like it was ripped from a Hollywood script.

Add to that the fact that hundreds of Depp's diehard fans would surround the courthouse each day and chant things like 'Amber Turd' and 'Why you gotta poop the bed', and the case had an almost surreal feel to it. Like we had dreamed up the most absurd, horrifying court case imaginable and brought it to life. 

People spoke of plot twists. There were fan theories circulating online. It felt like the whole thing was building up to a final climactic episode. 

Amber Heard during her testimony. Image: Getty.  

During his testimony, Depp admitted to drinking heavily and taking every drug under the sun (except ketamine). He claimed that while their relationship was volatile, he never physically struck Heard. 

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In fact, Depp claimed he was a victim of domestic abuse, perpetrated by Heard. 

A recording was played in court of Heard saying to Depp: "Tell the world. Tell them, Johnny Depp — 'I Johnny Depp, a man, I am a victim too of domestic violence, and I know it's a fair fight,' and see how many people believe or side with you." 

It was clear from these very first weeks of the trial that the odds were stacked against Heard. Depp's team had done an incredible job of casting him as a roguish, loveable star, who sometimes indulged too much, but only wanted the best for his kids. A 'good family man'. And Heard as a manipulative woman who had seen an opportunity to paint herself as a victim. 

Next, Heard took the stand, and that's when things really took a turn. People flocked to comment sections to say that she was using her skills as an actress to put on an act. That she was faking it. These same people didn't mention that Depp is also an actor, and arguably one of the best in the business. 

Conspiracies began to surface online, most notably, the theory that Heard had stolen lines directly from The Talented Mr Ripley and recited them on the stand. And that she was sniffing cocaine while being questioned. Theories that have since been debunked. 

While Heard's testimony was horrifying, including claims that Depp sexually assaulted her with a bottle during an argument, most people didn't want to hear it. 

This was a sports match, and from the outset, people had chosen their team. No amount of testimony from Heard was going to convince the die-hard Depp fans to switch sides. They were going all the way to the grand final. 

When supermodel Kate Moss, one of Depp's very famous exes, testified that he never physically abused her during their four-year relationship, it felt like the final nail in Heard's coffin. 

Her credibility was shot. What was most surprising over the course of the case was the reaction from women. In the end, it was women who were the loudest on social media. Women who were unspeakably angry at Heard. Women who believed Heard had destroyed the credibility of all future victims. 

Depp and Heard's legal teams gave their closing statements last week and then the jury went into deliberation. After roughly 13 hours of deliberation, jurors returned a verdict in favour of Depp today, with the actor awarded compensatory damages of $US10 million and a further $US5 million in punitive damages. 

The people got their final plot twist. Outside the court, Depp's fans chanted "Johnny, Johnny, Johnny" after the verdict was read out. 

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In a statement, Depp, who was not present for the verdict, told fans that "a new chapter has finally begun".

"Six years ago, my life, the life of my children, the lives of those closest to me, and also, the lives of the people who for many, many years have supported and believed in me were forever changed," he said.

"All in the blink of an eye... And six years later, the jury gave me my life back. I am truly humbled... I feel at peace knowing I have finally accomplished that."

Heard also released a statement. In it, she said she was "disappointed with what this verdict means for other women." 

"I'm heartbroken that the mountain of evidence still was not enough to stand up to the disproportionate power, influence, and sway of my ex-husband. I'm even more disappointed with what this verdict means for other women."

We never truly know what happens behind closed doors and in this case, even with a mountain of evidence, the lines between victim and perpetrator, villain and hero were blurred. 

Both Heard and Depp claimed they were victims of abuse and innocent of the claims against them. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle. 

What we do know is this case has done more damage to victims than we could have ever imagined. We can't predict how bad the fallout will be, but given past experience, it's likely to be monumental. We already know that Marilyn Manson has filed a defamation lawsuit against his ex-girlfriend Evan Rachel Wood. And #MenToo is already trending on Twitter. 

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Through this very public court battle, the masses have been handed another 'Amy Dunne', an exception to the rule. A name they can drag out for years to come to discredit future victims. 

Over the past few years, we've become very skilled at reflecting on our collective past sins and reframing the women who paid for them publicly. Monica Lewinsky, Lorena Bobbitt, Britney Spears, just to name a few. 

Years after the media frenzy has died down, and the masses have put down their pitchforks, we've been able to see these women in a new light. To see the complexity of their situations and the power dynamics at play. 

Perhaps in five, or 10, or 15 years we'll revisit this public spectacle and be able to see it for what it is and our part in it. 

But right now, it just feels like we've all sat through a Hollywood movie that should never have been made.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

You can also call safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or visit www.safesteps.org.au for further information.

The Men’s Referral Service is also available on 1300 766 491 or via online chat at www.ntv.org.au.

Keryn Donnelly is Mamamia's Pop Culture Editor. For her weekly TV, film and book recommendations and to see photos of her dog, follow her on Instagram and  TikTok.