There’s been a lot of debate over the Amber Heard and Johnny Depp case in the last week or so, as the latter’s failure to win his libel action in the UK has prompted a series of events where he’s agreed to resign with compensation from the Fantastic Beasts franchise. And while there’s been a backlash from fans against Heard, Warner Bros. have not shown an indication to fire her from her contracted role in Aquaman 2. Sure, there may be PR factors involved in that decision, but it seems there are more simple contractual reasons for why this wouldn’t be possible as well.
According to ScreenRant, WB can’t fire Heard or even ask her to break her contract due to the legal issues involved in her dispute with Depp. In the United States, the plaintiff has to prove malicious intent by the reporter, as well as avoidance of the truth, in order to succeed in a defamation of character suit. However, in the UK system, the journalist in question has to prove to a court that they weren’t acting in bad faith and to justify the accuracy of their reporting.
In this context, winning these arguments in the US courts can be harder due to free speech provisions, meaning that it should, in theory, be easier to prove libel in the UK. That Depp was unable to do so, then, outside of the ongoing appeals and other claims, means that he’s created a difficult position for Warner Bros. by publicly being shown to have not cleared his name of being a wife beater. It’s worth remembering, though, that the actor couldn’t actually be sacked for the verdict due to the fact that this was a civil case, meaning his resignation and receiving his salary worked as a compromise for both sides.
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For Heard, however, the situation seems more straightforward, at least legally. Even though there’ve been online petitions to have her removed from Aquaman 2, the studio simply can’t break her contract without criminal charges being filed against her. Moreover, Heard can’t be asked to resign in the same way as Depp, as she hasn’t lost out on a civil judgment. Of course, if Johnny wins another lawsuit in the US and shows that his ex-wife lied, or his appeals are successful, then WB will have to reconsider.
In any case, the Heard vs. Depp controversy has been ugly for both of them and given their mutual employers a public headache in terms of not wanting to take sides. As ScreenRant do point out, though, no matter how much social media outrage there may be, Warner Bros. can’t justify removing Amber Heard from her role as Mera in Aquaman 2 without setting themselves up for further trouble. For now, then, it’s good to remember that legal verdicts and contracts are always going to win out in these cases over the court of public opinion.