WOMEN
05/31/2016 02:28 pm ET Updated Jan 16, 2017

We Need To Stop Protecting Famous Men

Why do we scrutinize Amber Heard, but fail to question Johnny Depp?
Amber Heard and Johnny Depp in January 2016, a month after their wedding. 
Barry King via Getty Images
Amber Heard and Johnny Depp in January 2016, a month after their wedding. 

On Tuesday morning, Amber Heard released a statement concerning her domestic violence allegations against ex-husband Johnny Depp. A rep for the actress addressed the "years of psychological and physical abuse" Heard says she experienced, and the fact that many victims of abuse fail to come forward immediately. 

“As the result of Amber’s decision to decline giving an initial statement to the LAPD, her silence has been used against her by Johnny’s team," the statement read. "Amber did not provide a statement to the LAPD in an attempt to protect her privacy and Johnny’s career." 

The fact that Heard had to release such a statement at all, a statement vehemently defending herself in the "Court of Public Opinion," is a testament to the consistently messed up way we approach the actions of famous men. 

In the media circus that's enveloped Heard and Depp's very public split, there has been a general sense of incredulity, a disbelief that Depp could ever or would ever hurt his wife.

Because, according to his daughter, ex-wife and famous friends, Depp is the sweetest, most loving person ever. Because, Amber Heard was just a gold digger, using Depp to help her career, manipulating him for her benefit.

Because she was seen smiling after leaving a meeting with her lawyer, so she must be making everything up. 

TMZ

Heard's sexual preferences, her career aspirations, and the fact she was seen smiling are completely irrelevant. Not one of those things excuses abuse, nor are they proof Heard is lying.

This isn't a "bad guy" vs. "good guy" story. Depp could be the sweetest, most loving person in the context of all his other relationships and still be violent, (especially if drugs and alcohol are involved). Heard could very well be fame-hungry and manipulative, and still be a victim of abuse. 

This isn't the first nor will it be the last time that a woman is over-scrutinized in the interest of protecting the legacy and reputation of a rich, famous and powerful man. From the Bill Cosbys to the Sean Penns to the Woody Allens of Hollywood, we will conveniently ignore the pasts of powerful men in order to hold on to the nostalgic, comforting images we have of them. Because how could the men we love to watch on our TV and movie screens, who we have grown to adore in the way we often adore public figures, be capable of something so hideous? 

It's this kind of nostalgia that obscures the fact that Johnny Depp only recently settled into his eccentric, scarves-and-bracelets, Disney-verified persona. For a long time, Depp was seen as an actor who was volatile, tortured, dangerous, and therefore brilliant. His "troubled young star" thing was part of his appeal. 

Lawrence Schwartzwald via Getty Images

There's a picture of Johnny Depp from 1994 that epitomizes this idea. It was taken perhaps at the peak of his movie stardom, as he was being escorted out of the 19th Precinct in New York. Wearing a brown suede bomber jacket a white T-shirt and blue jeans, he looks like James Dean for the grunge generation, a bad boy, a badass.

The expression on his face, partially covered with a pair of big green sunglasses and a green beanie, reads cool and calm. It's a calmness that belies the fact that just a few hours earlier, the then-31-year-old actor had completely trashed his suite at the Mark Hotel during a fight with girlfriend Kate Moss, causing over $15,000 worth of damage.

This incident did not have a detrimental effect on Depp's career. If anything, it bolstered his mystique, his rock-star image. But why isn't it the first thing we think of when we learn that Depp allegedly came home, drunk and agitated, and threw a wine bottle and then a cell phone at Amber Heard, bruising her? Yes, Depp hasn't had a past history of domestic abuse (on record), but he has been arrested several times for assault. 

People love to say things like, "Well, he hasn't been convicted of anything yet. Until he's convicted, I'm not going to make a judgement."

But whether we like to admit it or not, the "law" has very little to do with how we as a culture ultimately end up thinking about our celebrities, especially when they are men. Chris Brown, after all, was convicted, and he still has fans who weirdly repress the fact that he beat up Rihanna. And, of course, when someone says they aren't going to assume Depp is guilty, they are implicitly saying that Heard is probably lying.  

We need to accept the fact that Johnny Depp, like so many men in Hollywood, has an immense amount of power. He has a stellar PR team, and a lot of good will from famous friends and fans reluctant to even consider the fact that he may have done wrong in his relationship with Heard.

It's that lack of consideration that represents everything wrong with how this story is being talked about. And these themes are echoed in the way we speak about intimate partner violence when it comes to non-celebs -- either way the default is to assume the woman is lying.

Ultimately, this isn't about definitively saying what took place between Heard and Depp, it's about being discerning of the ways we unconsciously protect men in positions of power. Because more often than not, these men aren't the ones in need of protection.  

  
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