June 3, 2023
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ColumnsPopped Culture

Column: Is the #MeToo movement over?

For decades, Hollywood has been known to protect abusers and allow powerful men to get away with heinous crimes involving sexual harassment and violence. In October 2017, an online movement and cultural phenomenon began that sought to change that: #MeToo. The phrase was originally coined in 2006 by activist Tarana Burke but was first used on Twitter by actress Alyssa Milano, asking for survivors of sexual harassment and abuse to tell their stories and use the hashtag.

Millions of people have shared their stories online and real change occurred in the entertainment world. Within a month of allegations coming out against Harvey Weinstein, there were sexual abuse allegations against big names like Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K. and Matt Lauer. These men no longer have careers in entertainment, thanks at least in part to the #MeToo movement. It made many women and survivors feel safer. Yet, almost six years later, it almost feels as though all of this never happened.

In May 2016, actress Amber Heard filed for divorce against her then-husband, Johnny Depp, alleging abuse. After their divorce had been finalized, Heard wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post titled “Amber Heard: I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.” In the piece, Heard wrote about #MeToo and what it has exposed in our culture about men being protected and often getting off scot-free after being accused of abuse. Most importantly, in this article, Heard refers to when she spoke up about Depp’s abuse and the consequences she faced because of that. Heard never mentioned Depp by name, but context clues make it pretty evident that she was talking about him. Depp then sued Heard for defamation. In 2020, Depp sued The Sun, a UK publication, for defamation for calling him a “wife-beater.” He alleges in this trial that Heard was abusive toward him. Depp lost this trial. In 2021, Heard countersued Depp’s defamation lawsuit and on April 11, 2022, the trial began. What followed was one of the most horrific smear campaigns in recent history.

Conservative media outlet The Daily Wire paid copious amounts of money to spread misinformation and harmful sentiments about Heard. Most people who were on the internet during the trial can probably recall the sheer amount of posts making fun of Heard, mocking her facial expressions in the courtroom, calling her a liar and claiming she was acting when she broke down crying on the witness stand. They were hard to avoid. Mocking Heard became a trend and the people participating in it rarely actually followed the case or cared to learn the truth. Meanwhile, Depp was being hailed as a hero and a saint. Numerous celebrities expressed their solidarity with Depp online, meanwhile Heard was left to face mass online harassment virtually alone.

On June 1, 2022, the jury sided with Depp. This verdict was a devastating blow to survivors of sexual and domestic abuse and to the future of women in this country. Now, Heard has been essentially blacklisted from the industry. Depp, meanwhile, has had a boost in his career following the trial. He was featured at the MTV Video Music Awards, walked in a Savage x Fenty fashion show and became the face of the Dior Sauvage fragrance. Is this where we are now? Rewarding men for manipulation and abuse and shunning women for speaking up about it? Is #MeToo dead?

What is most frightening about all of this is the precedent the Depp v. Heard trial has set for other cases. On July 12, 2020, Megan Thee Stallion was shot in her feet by fellow rapper Tory Lanez. While Lanez was found guilty December 23, 2022, the harassment that Megan has received because she came forward about the incident has been immense. It is baffling how many people just refuse to believe women, even when the evidence is there. Recently, developments in Brad Pitt’s lawsuit against ex-wife Angelina Jolie over their winery have come to light. Jolie alleges that on a 2016 flight, Pitt attacked her and their children. While this account has been circulating for a while, it is more relevant than ever now. Pitt fans on social media are urging him to take the same steps that Depp did. If he does, it can only be assumed that the outcome would be another kick to the stomach for survivors.

Men in Hollywood can still thrive, not only just after allegations but after there is legitimate proof of their abuse. Pitt, in a rather unfortunately ironic turn of events, produced two 2022 films about women speaking up about abuse: “Women Talking” and “She Said.” Chris Brown, who physically assaulted Rihanna in 2009 and has a continued history of abuse since then, is still working with big artists like H.E.R. and Jack Harlow and put out an album this past year with RCA Records. Shia LaBeouf, who was recently sued by ex-girlfriend FKA twigs for rampant abuse, is starring in Francis Ford Coppola’s upcoming film “Megalopolis.” Jared Leto has had accusations against him of harassment and sexual abuse of underage girls dating back to 2005. He recently starred in “WeCrashed” (2022), “House of Gucci” (2021) and “Morbius” (2022) and was cast in the upcoming “Haunted Mansion” film from Disney.

#MeToo paved the way for progress in Hollywood, but the window for publicly outing abusers and being supported for it swiftly closed when Depp sued Heard and won. Things are moving backward. Even known abusers are still booking work. None of these allegations are secret. In fact, they are public knowledge at this point. And yet, they are living with no consequences while the women they abused have to suffer through intense trauma and public harassment on top of that. Hollywood loves awarding a good feminist film to cover up all of the years of unchecked abuse by producers like Harvey Weinstein and now by people like Brad Pitt. Hollywood and hypocrisy are a match made in heaven. The world is a scary place for women now, especially in the entertainment industry. One massive trial has reversed so much change. We can only hope to find a way to move forward and a way to protect women from enduring what Heard did.

Lily Lipka can be reached at llipka1@ithaca.edu