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Actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard are facing off in a defamation trial

Amber Heard listens during the trial of a $50 million defamation lawsuit against her by ex-husband Johnny Depp in Fairfax, Va.
Brendan Smialowski
POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Amber Heard listens during the trial of a $50 million defamation lawsuit against her by ex-husband Johnny Depp in Fairfax, Va.

Formerly married movie stars Johnny Depp and Amber Heard are squaring off in suburban courtroom near Washington, D.C. The issue is libel. Depp is suing his ex-wife for $50 million after Heard wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post in support of the Violence Against Women Act that drew on her own experiences as a survivor of sexual assault and domestic abuse.

"Like many women, I had been harassed and sexually assaulted by the time I was of college age," Heard wrote. "But I kept quiet — I did not expect filing complaints to bring justice. And I didn't see myself as a victim. Then two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture's wrath for women who speak out."

Heard's essay does not name specific perpetrators, but it echoes claims against Depp the actress raised during their 2016 divorce. Those issues were never resolved; the dissolution of their year-long marriage was settled out of court. Amid the white-hot scrutiny of entertainment media, Depp and Heard jointly issued a statement reading in part: "Neither party has made false accusations for financial gain. There was never any intent of physical or emotional harm. Amber wishes the best for Johnny in the future."

Now Depp, 58, is claiming that Heard, 35, defamed him in her essay because, his lawyers say, it refers to allegations she's made elsewhere. The libel trial began in Fairfax, Va., on Monday with seven jurors and four alternates (who, as part of the screening process, were asked if they were aware of the actors' work in various films.) The venue was selected for a variety of reasons, including the location of the computer servers used by The Washington Post. It also seems likely the courtroom's remove from the hyperactive paparazzi cultures of Los Angeles and New York was a factor as well.

Still, paparazzi may be unable to resist the courtroom appearances said to be forthcoming from actors Paul Bettany and James Franco and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

The trial is expected to last for at least a month.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.

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