“I hope none of the people who made this have daughters,” she said.
The MTV VMAs are always a night of spectacle. This year was no different with plenty of show-stopping performances and queer positive splashes like Billy Eichner’s speech against “the homophobes on the Supreme Court,” and Bad Bunny kissing a male backup dancer on stage — but despite the more crowd-pleasing moments, there was a strange vibe literally hanging in the air. That came in the form of Johnny Depp making his first appearance since his highly publicized court battle with ex-wife Amber Heard. Depp was seen digitally with his face imposed on a moon man floating over the crowd and cracking weird jokes like, “I needed the work.”
The inclusion of Depp in the telecast was instantly polarizing online. Fans of Depp lauded the cameo as his big comeback, while others mocked what a ridiculous and strange way it was to reintroduce himself. Others remarked that happily showcasing someone who was on trial for abuse allegations is why victims don’t come forward more often, and said that it speaks to the entertainment industry’s problematic relationship with abusers.
Amber Heard’s sister, Whitney Henriquez, took to social media to rebuke MTV for such full-throated support of Depp. She wrote on an Instagram story atop a photo of her sister that read, “@MTV you’re disgusting and clearly desperate! I really hope that none of the people that made this call have daughters…” She used the tag #DVMAS, an apparent combination of “domestic violence” and “VMAs,” adding #IStandWithAmberHeard.
The move is evidence of a big aspect of the highly publicized trial: The court of public opinion has largely sided with Depp, as did a jury of his peers who found that Heard had defamed Depp by writing a 2018 op-ed about domestic violence. It was a shocking outcome considering that throughout the media circus of legal proceedings, Heard emotionally testified to allege horrifying physical and sexual abuse. It would appear from the inclusion of Depp at the VMAs, though, that the public hasn’t just moved on because Depp wasn’t convicted, but that they genuinely side with Depp in the case. The social media campaigns against Heard have been vicious and even gone so far as to start targeting and doxxing her supporters online. It’s worth noting as well that a UK court sided with The Sun after they called Depp a “wife beater,” and he sued for libel. The judge in that case said during the ruling, “I accept [Heard’s] evidence of the nature of the assaults [Depp] committed against her. They must have been terrifying.” Heard plans to appeal the U.S. verdict.
It would appear that MTV was aware of how divisive the move to give Depp an awkward laugh might be. Since the show aired, attendees of the awards ceremony have come forward saying that Depp was never shown to the live audience. These fans, some of whom posted pictures to prove they were there, allege that the segment was prerecorded and edited in, along with the applause, just for the telecast. Perhaps MTV was afraid of what the live reaction might be to Depp. Regardless, despite pushback, Depp’s appearance was received well by a horde of his supporters, and signals that the public at large is OK with Depp reemerging on the world’s stage.