Johnny Depp - the iconic star of films such as Donnie Brasco, Edward Scissorhands and Finding Neverland - has become the latest victim of cancel culture.
Warner Bros has asked him to resign from the Harry Potter prequel franchise, Fantastic Beasts, whilst he has reportedly been fired from The Pirates of the Caribbean Franchise, where he played the unmistakable role of Jack Sparrow.
This comes on the back of his failed libel case against Britain’s Sun newspaper. The Sun had claimed that Depp was abusive towards his ex-wife, actress Amber Heard (34), something Depp contested. Despite the evidence to the contrary in a 129-page ruling, Depp argued that he was not abusive and rather, that he was abused by Heard. Depp alleged that the abuse extended to punching, kicking, staged attacks and a black eye he sustained after being late for Heard’s 30th birthday dinner.
A recorded telephone exchange between the two, in which Heard argues over the semantics of what constitutes a punch and suggests that she “hit” him instead, provides weight to Depp’s argument. As does Depp’s ex-wife, Vanessa Paridis, and ex-girlfriend, Winona Ryder, echoing Depp’s claims that he would never hit a woman. "I do not want to call anyone a liar but from my experience of Johnny, it is impossible to believe that such horrific allegations are true”, said Ryder.
Schillings law firm’s Jenny Afia represented Depp, and said that she found the judge’s decision perverse and bewildering. “Most troubling is the judge’s reliance on the testimony of Amber Heard, and corresponding disregard of the mountain of counter-evidence from police officers, medical practitioners, her own former assistant, other unchallenged witnesses and an array of documentary evidence which completely undermined the allegations, point by point. All of this was overlooked.”
The case might ultimately boil down to a case of ‘he-said, she-said’, and as Sharon Osborne suggested, we will never know what really happened (the evidence seems to suggest that the violence went both ways but I’ll let you form your own conclusions). Osborne likened the couple’s marriage to hers with Ozzy’s. “I think that they were both drinking... it's a volatile relationship. I had a relationship like that with my husband at one time. I would give him what he gave me. He'd shove me. I'd shove him back. And some people are like that. I understand why he did sue... whatever went on, only those two know.”
While we might never know the truth, it’s critical to note is that when it comes to libel cases, in order to prove something true it must be be based on ‘the balance of probabilities’, rather than ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’, as is the case with the usual criminal standard.
And so it is that based on the balance of probabilities, Johnny Depp finds himself staring into the abyss of not just an estimated £5 million in legal costs, but also millions more dollars in lost income, and reputational damage.
In the post #metoo movement, it is not just in libel cases that the benefit of the doubt wins. The benefit of the doubt tends to go to the accuser in most allegations of domestic violence. Guilty until irrefutable and insurmountable proof determines otherwise.
Depp’s ruling is a sign of the times in which you are guilty until proven innocent, providing you are on the wrong side of a prevailing social narrative. It is harking back to the dark ages when people were executed without a fair trial.
Robin DiAngelo’s book, White Fragility, tells white people that they are racist, even if they don’t know it, feel it, or act it.
If you support Trump, you are a Nazi.
If you’re gay or Black but vote Republican, you are no longer gay or Black.
If you question the legitimacy of a 13-year old girl’s desire to become a boy, you are a transphobic bigot.
If you have been accused of domestic abuse, you are a wife beater.
This weaponization of victimhood opens the door for false accusations of domestic violence to triumph in the short term. This disrespects the legitimate victims of domestic abuse, creates a dangerous ‘boy who cried wolf’ atmosphere, and in the long term could see legitimate grievances go uncompensated. The same argument can be made of real racists, real white supremacists, real homophobes and so on. If you're quick to label someone, then the waters quickly get muddied, and we lose sight of the genuine threats to society.
This is already creating negative flow-on effects in the workplace too.
In corporate America, the #metoo movement is inhibiting collaboration between the sexes. Men are increasingly reporting that they are uncomfortable mentoring, socializing or working one-on-one with women, for fear that something they say or do — or don’t do — being used against them. 60% of male managers are uncomfortable participating in work activities with women. Senior level men are 12-times more likely to hesitate having a meeting with a junior woman, with 36% saying they ignore social outings with female colleagues altogether.
Therefore it is critical that justice, rather than injustice, is carried out.
Victims of domestic violence should be compensated, we should do what we can to educate people so that it doesn’t occur in the first place, and rehabilitate the rightfully convicted. However, we should work just as hard to ensure that false accusations don’t go rewarded, for that would set a very dangerous precedent.
In Depp’s case, because of the current wave left-learning social narrative sweeping America, organizations such as Warner Bros find themselves with no choice but to take the safe road, and fire one of their most profitable assets - an actor that helped The Pirates of the Carribean series earn over US$3 billion - in order to signal that they are on board with the #metoo movement, and avoid a potential backlash at the box office.
But when #metoo should not come at the expense of lady justice, we all lose in the end.
If you are a victim or perpetrator of domestic violence, seek help at the following hotlines.
United States and Canada: www.thehotline.org
United Kingdom: www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk
New Zealand: www.2shine.org.nz
Steve Glaveski is on a mission to unlock your potential to do your best work and live your best life. He is the founder of innovation accelerator, Collective Campus, author of several books, including Employee to Entrepreneur and Time Rich, and productivity contributor for Harvard Business Review. He’s a chronic autodidact and is into everything from 80s metal and high-intensity workouts to attempting to surf and hold a warrior three pose.