What makes Johnny Depp fans so loyal?
The buzz of anticipation from the crowd, along with the delighted shouts when he introduces himself – “We love you, Johnny!” “You are beautiful!” – is a stark contrast to the disturbing allegations made in recent weeks in court, as Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard have accused each other of abuse, which both have denied. Depp is suing Heard for $50 million for defamation after a 2018 op-ed in The Washington Post in which she said she had become a public figure representing domestic violence. (That was two years after she filed for divorce and a restraining order, alleging he abused her.) Heard counter-sued Depp for $100 million for defamation after her lawyer called her for a hoax.
Depp’s lawyers completed their testimony on Tuesday; Heard, 36, is expected to testify in the coming days.
The lawsuit has now moved to Heard’s version of events, which could well mean that Depp fans – some of whom have already been warned by Judge Penney Azcarate to tone down their vocal support for the 58-year-old actor as he was sitting in the courtroom – will have to invoke even more discipline to hold back their feelings about Heard. Some of them have been supporting Depp since her “21 Jump Street” days in the late 1980s. To say the least, they don’t believe her.
Heard has faced an outpouring of vitriol for years online, but the animosity towards her recently hit a new high, especially when Depp took the stand last month for more than seven hours of testimony. . The hashtag #justiceforjohnnydepp has received nearly 7 billion views on TikTok and regularly trends on Twitter, as fans create supercuts from trial footage that is edited to make it look like Heard’s accusations are not unfounded. Memes based on footage from the trial, complete with demeaning jokes about Heard, are circulating online (even generating top 10 lists), which has baffled some viewers, given the seriousness of the claims.
By comparison, the hashtag #justiceforamberheard, which includes a mix of clips defending the actress and wacky jokes aimed at both Depp and Heard, has around 25 million views. Late last week, Heard hired a new PR team, reportedly due to the amount of negative coverage she received. Representatives for Depp and Heard declined to comment for this story, but a person close to Heard who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak publicly about the case said: “Too often, when a woman is abused and keeps quiet, people criticize her with ‘Why didn’t you say anything?’ Well, she did. And now she’s being attacked for it.
Meanwhile, Depp, whose movie star status began with films dating back to the 1990s “Edward Scissorhands” and continued through Disney’s hit “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, enjoys of the 21st century’s version of having an all-volunteer army, aka “stans” — people whose fandom for celebrities goes beyond admiration and into the realm of fervent devotion. Once they’ve signed up, little will influence their opinions: nor a string of failed movies and box office flops over the past decade (“Mortdecai,” “Alice Through the Looking Glass” ) nor the more sordid details of the trial (like Depp’s profane text messages and audio recordings) can dampen their enthusiasm.
The driving force behind Depp’s fandom is likely his long and varied career, said Seth Lewis, director of the journalism program at the University of Oregon. He points to the “sympathetic nature of the characters he played, especially Captain Jack Sparrow. It’s hard to get over that built-in association and what it means for how they view Depp as a person.
In some ways, Lewis said, what we’re seeing is “the apotheosis of participatory culture,” the idea of fans taking an active, communal role in the subject matter of their fandom. And because it’s taking place on social media, the trial “feels like reality TV, airing on TikTok, Twitter and YouTube,” Lewis said, which may make Depp and Heard feel “more like avatars than real people”.
That sentiment was likely heightened when Drew Barrymore called the trial “seven layers of madness” on his syndicated TV show last week. She returned those statements with a cursory apology on Instagram, in which she called the backlash a “teachable moment.”
But those who show up at the courthouse – they travel from all over the country and the world — feel like they really know the actor. They call him a “darling” or “down to earth” or say he always seemed like a really nice guy: he visits hospitalized kids while dressed as Jack Sparrow. He is kind to animals.
Leesburg’s Chrissy Maye is in her 40s and remembers first noticing Depp among all the other favorites of the day in Tiger Beat magazine. Someone once told her that Depp lived on a private island (his residence in the Bahamas came up throughout the trial), and she thought that seemed antisocial in a good way. “I loved that he was famous, but he didn’t always show it on people’s faces,” she said. “He didn’t need the fame.”
They just don’t (or can’t) believe he did something wrong. Several people interviewed for this story at the courthouse refuse to believe Heard’s allegations are true and dismiss details of Depp’s drug and alcohol use, which were discussed at length by Heard’s lawyers. While they may be surprised during the trial to see his vulgar text messages calling Heard all kinds of swear words, or hearing audio clips where you can hear him getting angry, some identify more with Depp than with Heard.
Pamela Jablonski of Chantilly, Va., who got close enough to Depp’s car to slip him a note of support, said she was a bit surprised to hear some of the details; such as when the top of her finger was severed in an incident in March 2015 – Depp alleged that Heard threw a bottle of vodka at her, which she says didn’t happen – and how he then dipped in paint and started writing on lampshades. ” But I understand. I understand that dynamic,” Jablonski said, adding that she also had a “crazy” relationship. “He has no history. So I think he’s innocent.
For a small minority of vocal Depp supporters, Lewis said, it could be a “kind of backlash against revivalism” and the #MeToo movement. Courthouse fan Natalia Burton of Charlottesville cited the “impact of false accusations on the #MeToo movement” as one of the main reasons for her support, adding: “I also think it’s important because that there are many male victims of domestic abuse. violence and abuse”.
On the internet, one of Depp’s most prominent defenders is ‘The Walking Dead’ star Laurie Holden, who tweeted recently the hashtag to its nearly half a million followers, along with the message “The truth is now out and justice will be served”. This led to a Change.org petition to remove Heard from the upcoming “Aquaman” sequel. Signed more than 3 million times, it was created by author Jeanne Larson, who writes under the pseudonym Jeannie Depp and did not respond to The Post’s request for comment.
“We don’t have much in our world that we have control over,” said Eric Wesselmann, a psychology professor at Illinois State University who studies fandom. “That type of social media activist, for whatever someone is active for, can fulfill that need for control or agency.”
Even so, it might seem odd that someone cares so deeply for a celebrity, but as Wesselmann noted: “Like any relationship we have with people in our day-to-day lives, we build that into our self-concept. If someone insults – or there is a perceived threat to – one of our regular partners, we experience it as a threat to ourselves, to some degree. So it’s reasonable to assume that people feel the same way if they perceive a threat to their favorite band or celebrity, etc.
Chicago’s Taylor Anne Swartz said she met Depp when she was in middle school in 2008, after waiting for him outside a location in Aurora, Illinois, where he was filming “Public Enemies.” When Depp saw a drawing Swartz had done for him, she said, the actor didn’t accept it because he said he felt like he didn’t deserve it. Swartz said that moment changed his life.
“Meeting him was basically my biggest dream at the time, so I was like, okay, if he made me feel that way and that was my biggest dream, I was like, what can I do about it? ‘other of my life? she says. “So I think that moment kind of catapulted me to believe in myself a little bit.”
Swartz closely followed the 2020 libel lawsuit that Depp lost against the Sun, a British tabloid, for calling him a “wife beater,” and much of the same evidence is used in that case against Heard. She’s looked at both sides, she says, but like many of her fans, she remains convinced: “I’m still completely on Johnny’s side.”