Johnny Depp trial highlights need to dismantle ‘movie star’ myth


You’d be hard-pressed to take even a three-second scroll across the internet without seeing the headlines about Johnny Depp’s libel lawsuit against Amber Heard.

Depp, who is suing Heard for $50 million in part over a 2018 Washington Post opinion piece alluding to his victim of domestic violence (the attacker being Depp), recently testified in court. And, like many personal matters belonging to a celebrity, it has come under public scrutiny.

In the video (see below), Depp spoke about his own experience of childhood abuse, wanting to protect his children, his drug addiction, the disturbing texts he sent to friends about Heard and how he was heartbroken that those he had mentored or given advice to might be questioning themselves now, thinking he was an impostor. To name just a few points.

Johnny Depp explains why he is suing Amber Heard for defamation

While there’s certainly a lot to unpack there, there’s still one element that I find more striking:

“One day you’re Cinderella and then in zero point six seconds you’re Quasimodo. I didn’t deserve that and neither did my kids.

If that’s not the epitome of what’s problematic with our culture’s misguided celebrity worship, I don’t know what is.

So far it’s been an interesting year for movie stars. With a single slap, Will Smith went from one of the nicest guys in Hollywood to one of the most notorious. Ezra Miller, once seen as a beloved LGBTQ savior, is now reduced to the punchline of a weird SpongeBob meme. In his “Cinderella” days, Depp was overall an accomplished actor who, performance-wise, couldn’t go wrong. Now franchises find him untouchable.

The speed at which household names can go from “greatest” to “worst” of all time is enough to cause a whiplash if you look too closely. And what’s worse, in this act of dehumanization, we often risk losing touch with our own humanity. Which is particularly ironic and tragic given that artists in particular are about connecting us to our humanity.

If it’s not obvious: I wanted to add a little disclaimer stating that I don’t condone wrongdoing or wave the flag of anti-cancellation culture. There’s certainly something to be said for how celebrity status often unfairly excuses wrongdoing. But really, I find adoration and defamation to be two sides of the same coin. And maybe, just maybe, what we really need to do to get ourselves out of movie stardom is toss the coin completely.

There was a time when actors and performers weren’t considered beyond human. In fact, one could argue that in the days of traveling theatrical performances, actors were considered subhuman, but that is not the point. Perhaps this recent movie star fall is a chance for us to collectively reclaim some mental freedom away from the siren song of fame. As we have seen recently, this is certainly not the guarantee of the happiness it once was.

A growing number of Americans no longer have gods to worship or royalty to idolize. In their absence, celebrities have taken over this role for many. But in the modern age of information traveling at the speed of WiFi, illusion and mystery are no longer the great shields they once were. Now the spotlight ruthlessly scans every crack in the veneer. And just like a real dying star, it’s as if these people are collapsing in on themselves, crushed by the massive weight of their own fabricated persona.

It is perhaps unfair to consider any human as some kind of celestial being. As we have seen many times, this leads to disappointment, abuse of power and unrealistic expectations. And perhaps worst of all, it takes us away from compassion. Tons of debate goes on about whether Depp or Heard is lying, whether this will be Hollywood’s “ugliest” breakup or whether it will go to Will and Jada, and whether or not we’ll see Depp on screen again. Few discuss the tragedy their family must go through or talk about the heartache turned toxic. And then there’s the question: should we weigh in on their lives at all? It’s a fine line, being a public figure and all, but something worth considering.

Hollywood continues to adapt (for better or worse, it’s up to the viewer). And as it is, movie stars like Depp could continue to lose their shine…if not eliminate it altogether. But I hope it will lead to a new rebirth. A world where no one is beyond responsibility or unworthy of empathy. Hopefully we won’t find new false idols, but instead value discernment above all else.

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