It was a Wednesday evening and, after a long day at work, I was looking forward to settling into a night of stress-free reality TV. An intellectually light but joyful cultural palate cleanser, Channel 4’s First Dates seemed like an apt choice. Imagine my surprise then when, halfway through Laura’s date with The Traitors’ cheeky chappy, Aaron, my screen was suddenly occupied by Johnny Depp.
Playing electric guitar on an abandoned stretch of land at dusk, the 60-year-old is seen heroically strumming away before strutting away with, erm – checks notes – a pack of wolves behind him. “In the wilderness,” his voiceover begins, “Fearless. And human.” Ah, OK, it’s an advert for Sauvage by Dior, the fragrance Depp has been the face of since 2015. That advert isn’t actually new (it’s from 2021), which made it even stranger to see it.
Depp’s latest one for the brand came out last September. In that one, he recites poetry against a blue backdrop. “Bold and powerful, in his essence, his truth, embodies the soul of Sauvage,” Dior said on Instagram at the time, also referring to the Pirates of the Caribbean star as “fearless”.
All of this is a lot to take in. I knew Dior had doubled down on its relationship with Depp last May, signing a three-year deal said to be worth upwards of $20m that is said to mark the biggest men’s fragrance partnership ever. But to see him, smugly strutting across on my screen unsolicited when I was just trying to have a peaceful evening… well, it disturbed me, to say the very least.
We’re two years on from the, quite frankly, astonishing defamation trial between Depp and his ex-wife, Amber Heard. I’m sure you’re already familiar with the details but, just in case, a quick recap. In 2022, a jury found that Heard had defamed Depp in a Washington Post op-ed from 2018 and awarded him $10m (£8m) in compensatory damages and $5m in punitive damages. Heard was awarded $2m in compensatory damages but no punitive damages.
The trial was a social media sensation. TikTok users followed it obsessively, Depp’s fans camped outside the Virginia courtroom, and a global witch hunt against Heard ensued. The details of the actors’ allegations against one another are still the subject of furore in conversations both online and off – just last week, someone chastised me at the pub for daring to call out the brazen misogyny Heard faced during (and since) the trial. “But she’s a proven sociopath,” the person said before whipping out their phone and sending me various YouTube links.
Look, I’m not going to debate what did or did not happen in someone else’s relationship, mostly because I don’t know (and neither do you, I suspect). What I do know is that despite being accused of domestic and sexual abuse, Depp’s career appears to be flourishing: on top of the Dior deal, there’s his latest film, Jeanne du Barry, which opened last year’s Cannes Film Festival and received a seven-minute standing ovation.
Here are some other things I know: that Depp lost a UK libel case against The Sun in 2020 after the publication described him as a “wife beater”. That in the ruling, Mr Justice Nicol said: “I have found that the great majority of alleged assaults of Ms Heard by Mr Depp have been proved to the civil standard.” That those assaults amount to at least 12 occasions. That, in 2013, Depp texted a friend: “Let’s burn Amber. Let’s drown her before we burn her!!! I will f*** her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she’s dead.” That there are many other texts in which he has referred to women as “sl**s”, or “fat ugly wh***s”. That he once called Heard a “filthy wh***” and said he’d “smack the ugly c*** around” and, in another message, called her a “gold-digging, low-level, dime-a-dozen, mushy, pointless, dangling, overused flappy fish market”.
That none of this seems to matter. Because even despite all this, and the fact that Heard accused Depp of manipulating, controlling, abusing, and sexually assaulting her, Depp is still thriving. Meanwhile, the testimonies in which Heard made those allegations became memes that were widely shared and derided online – audio of her crying trended on TikTok.
The fact that Dior has decided to not only stand by Depp but actively promote him as part of its brand is nothing short of astounding to me. What kind of message is the brand trying to send to women? Because it’s not only that it doesn’t care about us. No. Surely, it goes beyond that.
Even if we’re only basing it off his text messages (and not the litany of other allegations against him that would send most brands running), by rewarding a man like Depp, you are also rewarding violence against women.
That is a terrifying reality to be facing in 2024, and one I did not expect to be confronted with while watching First Dates.