The Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial, which could have been a rather dramatic episode of a soap opera, was finally declared over by a jury. But the verdict was only a part of the victory for Johnny Depp because it felt more like a formality. In the court of public opinion Johnny Depp was declared innocent long before that verdict ever came in. The trial, which saw practically the entire world get involved, was fought and decided on social media. Videos containing the hashtag #ISupportJohnnyDepp were viewed on Tiktok nearly 8 billion times. Despite the overwhelming support for Depp, I have seen several outlets like The New York Times and Vox speak in favour of Amber Heard and call this verdict a fatal blow to the #MeToo movement.
I disagree with this assertion for the simple reason that Johnny Depp won this defamation trial by arguing that the allegations against him were false and that he was the victim of abuse. How can it be that justice for a victim of abuse has to be an attack on a movement that claims to champion the rights of victims of abuse? The simple answer is that it isn’t an attack on the #MeToo movement and what it stands for. The #MeToo movement was born to provide a safe platform for victims of abuse to tell their stories and be heard without any prejudice and to provide them with a safety net in a vicious society that overwhelmingly stigmatizes them. For several years, it has been quite successful in this objective and has helped to take down several high-profile names such as Harvey Weinstein, and Roy Price, among others.
There are two things that have become very clear from this trial. While it is true that an overwhelming majority of those who suffer from sexual abuse are women, it must also be acknowledged that men too suffer and their stories also deserve to be heard without any prejudice. Trials are no longer just fought in courts of law, they are also being fought in social media, often considered the court of public opinion. How does this fit in with the #MeToo movement? The reason The New York Times declared the death of #MeToo was because they saw an overwhelming majority of the young generation and especially women, line up behind Johnny Depp. For many, this shows no contradiction as the #MeToo movement claims to stand up for all victims of abuse, not just women.
Also read: Judge, jury and social media trial — Why Johnny Depp lost libel suit in UK but won in US
Interestingly, when #MeToo first came around, the goal was to provide a safe platform for victims of abuse to speak up without fear of persecution. The slogan for this was ‘Believe Women’, which eventually changed to ‘Believe All Women’. These three words are the crux of the problem because as this slogan was adopted, it immediately alienated male victims of abuse, and due to the ambiguous nature of the slogan, it required people to start with the presumption that someone is guilty until proven innocent. Now, that is problematic and the very reason that it did not resonate with the young generation.
But does this mean that the #MeToo movement is dead? Not at all. But what it does mean is that the movement needs to be open to some level of constructive criticism because the only way that the movement can die is if it alienates the current generation. The movement has to realise that this is not a man-vs-woman battle, but an initiative to punish sexual predators and bring them to justice. There is simply a need to adapt to the times, adapt to make itself more inclusive, and make the movement itself more inclusive for all victims of abuse.
The author is a student at Doon School, Ambala Cantt. Views are personal