It feels almost impossible to forget the hype surrounding the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial in 2022. While it wasn’t the first in the series of trials surrounding the divorce and defamation between Depp and Heard, it received the most coverage because it was televised. The case was one of the most polarizing, and there are bound to be different arguments. The Depp v Heard documentary/docuseries on Netflix tried to shed some new light on the situation but, unfortunately, got some things completely wrong.
The Netflix docuseries did its best to stay objective while covering an excessively subjective trial. Everyone who watched the trials with bated breath had a different opinion and argument, significantly depending on who that person was a fan of. As a way of “remaining objective”, director Emma Cooper explained her decision to not use any interviews or commentary from experts.
“My intention, right from the start, was to make a cogent and interesting reflection of what happened without using interviews or experts.” (quoted from Cooper’s interview with Variety.) While this might have seemed like an excellent way to keep the coverage neutral, it does take away some essential context for understanding the trial. “I wanted to get away from any he-said-she-said from within the trial, and I just really wanted to talk about us and the way we communicate and the way that we look at events that don’t really have anything to do with us.” As a result, the series focused less on the events and more on the pretty disturbing responses that the public had to the trial in general.
Speaking of needing more critical context, the docuseries also leaves out much from the UK’s first defamation trial. As Den of Geek pointed out, the first episode of the docuseries mentions the trial but doesn’t discuss the details. While this might seem like a relatively small oversight on Netflix’s part, this omission is a problem because, just like the interviews, it provides viewers with the necessary context for understanding the bigger picture of the case.
In essence, without the interviews, added context, and the opinion of experts, the docuseries seemed more like a repackaging of the events that everyone had already seen televised without adding anything more to it. Instead of presenting “nothing but pure reality” the way that Emma Cooper had wanted, viewers felt like it just left too much out and didn’t add anything new to their understanding of the situation, which is the whole point of a documentary.
Again, to its credit, the Depp v Heard documentary also had a few constraints that must be considered when critiquing it. The fact that it was split up into episodes worked in its favour and against it. The favourable side is that it was given more time than a movie or single episode. Still, the docuseries was only afforded three episodes on the other end of that same stick.
Being a shorter docuseries, the limit of three episodes also meant that much of the meat that might have added more information to the story and improved viewers’ understanding of the trial could have been cut purely for the preservation of time.
With nothing added and nothing gained, viewers think there is little point in exploring a story everyone already knows. Fans have been “Split 50/50” according to Emma Cooper, with the docuseries receiving a lot of “hate”. There’s no saying what will happen to the series next.
Do you think Netflix could have better represented the Depp v Heard case in their documentary?