Months after the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trail, another celeb battle is brewing in news lately. Dramatic new details about the mid-air meltdown that ended Brad Pitt’s marriage to Angelina Jolie – but did not lead to criminal charges – are coming to light in newly surfaced private FBI investigative records.
According to a report, Jolie told an FBI agent several years ago that Pitt “physically and verbally assaulted” her and their children when they were aboard the plane. As per the agent’s notes at the time, Pitt allegedly grabbed her shoulders, drunkenly dumped alcohol on her and shouted abusive things like, “You’re f*cking up this family.” Jolie alleged that on the same flight, another physical altercation occurred between the former couple, which caused her to sustain injuries on her elbow and hand.
Pitt’s team has denied all accusations, reports Variety. Despite the photographic and witness evidence at hand in Pitt-Jolie case, the FBI reportedly is not willing to reopen investigation on the matter. “The statute of limitations is way gone and they have seen all the information at hand,” a source had revealed.
“There is nothing new here. At the time they considered all of Angelina’s allegations and didn’t bring any charges. The FBI investigated the incident thoroughly, there is zero chance of them reopening the case. This is all a concerted effort to smear Brad. Angelina’s claims were raised in at least two different legal contexts: the incident on the plane and then again during a lengthy custody trial. In one case, there were no charges brought and in another, Brad was granted 50/50 custody.”
The incident, however, makes us question the coverage of Jolie-Pitt’s bitter divorce and custody battle, and how the former was painted as a villain in the story, something that we saw happen in the Depp-Heard trial as well. Why does public sympathy lie largely with men in such cases? Why are women vilified to such an extent that it not only affects their personal but professional lives too?
Brad Pitt plane incident: Why do male celebs have our trust?
Earlier this year, a seven-week long live telecasted Depp Heard trial subjected us to memes, reels, and TikTok videos imploring us to participate, willingly or unwillingly, in what was a public spectacle of two people’s personal lives. However, beyond the sadistic joy that this trial gave many in consuming abuse as packaged entertainment, there was also the colossal cultural impact as it eventually dawned on us that there were more people in support of Depp than Heard.
The worrisome trial and its lasting repercussions consistently highlight the entrenched gender disparities in representation and power. While Heard and Jolie may have extracted themselves from their respective problematic marriages, it is harder to escape from the clutches of their former spouses’ superstardom and their fanbase that seems to be on a relentless witch hunt.
The whole point of the #MeToo movement was to expose how men with fame, power, money, and most importantly, influence, used the potent combination of systemic advantages to cover up their misdeeds. Many have noted how the response to the Johnny Depp trial is a post-#MeToo backlash — almost serving as revenge for all the ways in which widely admired men have been “wronged” by not just women who accuse them, but by the larger culture itself.
The clarion call to “believe women” began in recognition of the power imbalances between the famous men accused of sexual assault and the survivors who accused them. Celebrities like Depp and Pitt have often been hailed as contemporary culture icons, have been used as “brands” to bring attention to global issues as they have the ability to elicit extensive discussions around serious issues within the public sphere. They’ve built a relationship with their fans through years of storytelling and art, in many cases, shaped an image of masculinity that fans emulated and admired. Hence, a parasocial relationship is established wherein accusing a charismatic figure like Pitt is like accusing a role model around whose image many have built up their own personalities and fantasies.
This all results in discrediting of accusers, discrediting their “evidence” (an already slippery slope, considering that evidence is hard to obtain in cases of sexual assault and intimate partner violence) and the battle somehow becomes viciously personal.
We live in a society where, if you are in the right position, you can essentially get away with whatever you want. Depending on your fame, you will either be ostracised or given a free pass when it comes to abuse. When you hold famous people accountable in this case men, their first response is to deny or else use spin doctors to protect their image. They have experts who can advise them on how best to respond and, eventually, help them plot a course towards recovery.
Depp prevailed in his trial and was awarded $10 million in damages from Heard (whose lawyer said she cannot pay and wants to appeal). But whatever defamation may have occurred, Depp’s career has surely also enjoyed a renaissance thanks to this trial. Whereas Heard enjoys no such status in the pop-culture moment.
This odd imbalance of justification, favouring the star persona can evolve into an oppressive trend, which leaves women around the world without voice or representation in the face of sexual harassment. If it can happen to Jolie or Heard, it can happen to commoners like us as well.
In being the representational images of cultural shifts, male celebrities have enjoyed a discursive influence, that effectively panders to them. However, the opportunity to shift anything real or worthy is lost.
Suggested Reading: How Johnny Depp Verdict Can Discourage Abuse Survivors From Speaking Up