[#7#]Anatomy of a Pile-On- Learning From Netflix's Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard Trial Docuseries

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Sides were taken years before Johnny Depp and Amber Heard ever stepped foot in a Virginia courtroom.

As soon as Heard's allegations of domestic violence against Depp went public in a May 2016 court filing, social media was ablaze with comments, most of them dripping with vitriol directed at the Pirates of the Caribbean star's soon-to-be ex-wife.

While fans who'd adored Depp for decades had their reasons, logical or not, for immediately sticking up for him, just as quickly Heard was labeled a gold-digger, a manipulator or a liar. 

Of course, that wasn't the entirety of the online reaction: Plenty of people trashed Depp, breaking out the ever-popular claim that they knew all along that he wasn't a good guy (no matter that they'd never met the man). Others believed Heard without question. And some simply supported her right to speak out.

The skewed war of words is revisited in the new Netflix docuseries Depp v. Heard, another look at the 2022 defamation trial that launched a zillion hot takes, none of which aged well no matter what you believe about who did what to whom.

photosViral Moments From Johnny Depp and Amber Heard's Defamation Trial

Because while people on TikTok, YouTube, podcasts, cable news, et al. had the right to their opinions—some of them having to do with the legalities of the case but most pertaining to Heard or Depp's believability—seeing the glee with which content creators feasted on the sad saga that played out over seven weeks is a cringey trip back down the rabbit hole.

A representative for Depp declined to comment on the series. E! News has also reached out to Heard's rep but has yet to hear back.

In 2019, Depp—who has repeatedly denied ever abusing Heard—filed a $50 million defamation lawsuit against the actress over a 2018 Washington Post op-Ed in which she referred to herself as someone who, in 2016, "became a public figure representing domestic abuse" and had seen "how institutions protect men accused of abuse." Heard countersued for $100 million, alleging her ex-husband unlawfully targeted" her in an "ongoing harassment and online smear campaign."

Courtesy of Netflix

Ultimately, the jury found truth in both defamation claims, but Depp was heralded as the victor because the judgment against Heard was $10.4 million, and he was ordered to pay her $2 million in compensatory damages. (They both appealed and ultimately settled in December, Heard agreeing to pay Depp $1 million—which he said he'd donate to charity—and he no longer having to pay her anything.)

Composed solely of archival footage, scenes from the trial and coverage of the proceedings, the three-episode Depp v. Heard leaves it up to audiences to unpack what they're witnessing.

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But more than 14 months since the verdict, it isn't news that the most vocal and present members of the court of public opinion favored Depp, or that Heard took the brunt of online abuse.

"Every single day, I passed three, four, sometimes six city blocks lined with people holding signs saying, 'Burn the witch,' 'Death to Amber,'" Heard told NBC News' Savannah Guthrie after the verdict, recounting her drives to the Fairfax County Courthouse for trial. "After three and a half weeks, I took the stand and saw just a courtroom packed full of Captain Jack Sparrow fans who were vocal, energized."

Cliff Owen/Consolidated News Pictures/Getty Images

Both the Aquaman star and her attorney Elaine Bredehoft told Guthrie in respective interviews that they didn't see how the jury could not have at least been somewhat influenced by what was being said about Heard outside the courtroom.

They were "absolutely" affected, Bredehoft said. "How can you not? They went home every night. They have families, the families are on social media."

Depp's attorneys countered that the jury had taken the judge's instructions to avoid any and all coverage of the case to heart and decided the case on the merits.

"They were admonished every single night," Depp lawyer Camille Vasquez told Guthrie on TODAY, "and they had a tremendous amount of respect for the court and the process, and they were doing the best they could."

JB Lacroix/Contributor (Getty Images)

Part oral history of their relationship, told in their own words through court testimony and footage of past interviews (David Letterman teasing Late Show guest Depp about wearing an engagement ring in 2014 may as well be from 50 years ago) and part uber-mashup of the loudest online voices who followed the trial from start to finish, Depp v. Heard isn't here to explain the sociological roots of why opinions were so stacked against Heard.

Rather, it revisits the most shocking he-said, she-said moments by juxtaposing the actors' testimony as they tell their sides of the story and weaving in the real-time reactions from the influencers and pundits hanging on their every word.

Which was very easy for them to do because the proceedings were televised (over the objections of Heard's counsel), making for an O.J. Simpson-murder-trial-on-steroids-level media circus.

Court TV, now digital but still in its element, was notably there for both attention-monopolizing events.

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Depp was not in the courtroom to hear the favorable outcome, so social media picked up the slack.

Countless fans recorded their reactions—ranging from fist pumps to tears of joy to impromptu dance parties—and slapped them with the #justiceforjohnnydepp hashtag so they'd be among the TikToks that by mid-trial had, per NBC News, been viewed 10.7 billion times.

Courtesy of Netflix

If you feel satiated by all you consumed last year, it's tempting to encourage you to be content with your memories. And yet, for a succinct recap of events, wrapped in a reminder that social media is where the notion of patiently waiting for all the info goes to die, Depp v. Heard is a brisk—and still perfectly timely—watch. 

The quick turnaround means it doesn't have the years-in-the-making poignant hindsight of a Framing Britney Spears or Malfunction: The Dressing Down of Janet Jackson, but, in this case, we're still wading through the aftermath. Depp and Heard just attended their first post-trial movie premieres a few months ago, and it's too soon to say what lasting effects their legal battle had on pop culture. Or even just on the two of them.

We do, however, find the hot takes guilty as charged.

Depp v. Heard is streaming on Netflix.

(E! and NBC News are both members of the NBCUniversal family.)

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