Last week, 26 May 2022, marked the end of The Ellen DeGeneres Show. It seems that, in the end, despite the fact that Ellen DeGeneres’ openness about her sexual identity as a lesbian made history in a first for American talk shows at the time, after a 19-year run, its illusion of progressiveness wasn’t enough to save it from a 37 per cent viewer drop. On the contrary, from allegations against the show’s production team to countless netizens speaking out about the host’s interview tactics and treatment of her staff, DeGeneres’ TV talk show’s façade of friendliness began to slip, with fewer and fewer viewers tuning in.
Even for those of us who never really watched The Ellen DeGeneres Show, many have taken to Twitter to critique the comedian’s treatment of interviewees. Incredibly awkward moments have been caught on camera which led many to cringe at her tactics, such as the infamous Dakota Johnson interview in which DeGeneres (wrongly) accused the Fifty Shades of Grey actress of not inviting her to a birthday party. The “that’s not the truth Ellen” answer that resulted from such accusations was widely circulated at the time, with some even claiming the viral meme single-handedly ended the talk show.
While this moment is painful to watch, it is not the worst of DeGeneres’ hosting behaviours—more often than not, her probing is downright intrusive. In 2008, she attempted to coax Mariah Carey into admitting to pregnancy rumours by trying to force the singer into having a glass of champagne. When Carey hesitantly took a fairly small sip from the glass, DeGeneres announced on the show, “You’re pregnant!”
Carey has since opened up to Vanity Fair about the moment saying that she was pregnant at the time but wasn’t ready to broadcast the news due to a recent miscarriage and fears of losing another baby. Heartbreakingly, the singer miscarried not long after this insensitive experience.
It’s not just the TV personality’s interview tactics that have left many reeling, contributing to a downtick in the show’s viewership. In recent years, many of those who have worked on the show have come forward to speak out against DeGeneres. Although her show’s mantra is literally “be kind,” it appears (according to certain allegations) that this is not something she herself practices on set.
Past and current employees detailed an environment of “racism, fear and intimidation” and reported being instructed “to not speak to DeGeneres if they saw her around set.” Ever since sexual harassment allegations first came out against the show’s production team, it’s become clear that the TV host had a toxic quality both on and off-screen.
Back in 2020, an attempt to change this environment—or at least the way it was perceived by her audience as more accusations came out at the time—was supposedly undertaken by DeGeneres herself, who promised to make changes to better the workplace and fired three members on her production team. However, with the show’s end comes the realisation that this promise was nothing more than an empty one.
The Ellen DeGeneres Show’s final episode served as a somewhat forced reminder to viewers of its host’s marginalised sexuality with DeGeneres mentioning that when the show first aired, she couldn’t say the word “gay.’’ Then, during her goodbye monologue, the TV personality preached about compassion, telling her audience to be their “true authentic self”—a message that wouldn’t seem so disingenuous if it didn’t follow an onslaught of problematic allegations.
Sure, at the time, the talk show may have played a part in changing the TV landscape of the 2000s. But DeGeneres’ latest and poorest attempt at wrapping herself in a rainbow flag rather than allowing herself to be held accountable clearly demonstrates her unwillingness to accept the privilege and power she had that helped create an inhospitable working environment. One former employee told BuzzFeed that the comedian should be taking responsibility, “If she wants to have her own show and have her name on the show title, she needs to be more involved to see what’s going on.” Clearly, the ‘no talking to Ellen rule’ was the perfect deterrent that prevented staff from sharing their discomfort or issues—allowing the host to live in blissful ignorance of production conduct.
When the #MeToo movement erupted, media outlets across the globe rightfully platformed the stories and testimonies of harassment, abuse and sexual misconduct from survivors in film, music and television. Highlighting, along the way, the culpability of those in power who turned a blind eye to the insidious behaviour of the perpetrators of sexual violence in their respective industries. However, a shift is occurring once again, largely in part to the Johnny Depp versus Amber Heard trial, which has emboldened others accused of abuse to rally against their alleged victims—centring and victimising themselves instead in order to distort the narratives of their accusers.
As the show is being criticised for allowing toxic masculinity to run rampant, DeGeneres’ teary-eyed on-screen goodbye is fitting with the current trend of celebrities attempting to victimise themselves instead of shouldering the blame. Just as we witness Marilyn Manson taking a leaf out of Depp’s book by attempting to sue Rachel Evan Woods for defamation, could the comedy actress now be joining the victimisation bandwagon?
While DeGeneres hasn’t been accused of the same horrific crimes as the aforementioned men, the friendly mask she has been presenting for years is finally beginning to crack. Her show’s ‘be kind’ mantra and preaching of compassion while claiming to celebrate differences has not been practised behind the scenes. Meanwhile, her leaving speech was endemic to a pattern of tone-deafness—take her distasteful complaints about COVID-19 isolation in her mansion during lockdown—rather than genuine sincerity.
The host has, for many years, used her sexual identity as a marker of her marginalisation, and though her career began fraught with consequences as a result of her queerness, her current immense wealth and celebrity status (not to mention cis and whiteness) shield her from the oppressive obstacles so many others face. Hopefully, a break from the show will help her put her words of kindness into action—prioritising the experiences shared by employees and guests above her own.
The glorification of Johnny Depp is unsettling to say the least. You can still defend the actor—in fact as a victim of violence you should—however the support shown towards him has quickly turned (as many predicted) into an unbridled mania that chooses to remain ignorant of Depp’s own wrongdoings. Not only that, but the circus erected in place of what should be a courtroom has belittled the serious process of law, crime and abuse.
Let me clarify for the Depp fanatics out there, I’m not saying that him ‘not being a wholly good person’ means he doesn’t deserve to be supported as a survivor of abuse. He does. What I am saying is that it’s not as simple as him being an angel and Amber Heard being devil incarnate.
Shannon Ashley highlights this incredibly well in her essay titled Johnny Depp Is a “Good” Victim. Amber Heard Is Not. “I don’t know anyone who can listen to Amber Heard on tape and call her behaviour healthy. Yet the same people who can’t wait to lambast Heard can be found making one excuse after another for Depp’s own awful—and yes, toxic—behaviour,” she wrote.
“Part of the reason here is maddening. Johnny Depp is a ‘good’ victim. Amber Heard is not,” Ashley continued. “By that, I mean that Depp mostly behaves the way we expect a man to behave while Heard does not behave the way we expect a woman to behave.”
To aid in the de-glorification of the Pirates of the Caribbean alum and removing him from the immortal pedestal that is celebrity, we’ve compiled a list of Depp’s previous problematic transgressions to paint him for what he is—human, not god-like.
As part of the ongoing trial, incidents of Depp’s questionable behaviour were highlighted by Heard’s camp. One came evidenced in the form of leaked text messages exchanged with fellow actor and friend Paul Bettany in June 2013. The messages written by the Edward Scissorhands lead read as follows: “Let’s drown her before we burn her!!!”
“I will fuck her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she’s dead,” he added. A message was also read in court where Depp was calling his ex-wife and mother of his children Vanessa Paradis a “French extortionist, cunt.”
Another text by the actor made in 2014 referring to Heard read: “I’ll smack the ugly cunt around before I let her in.”
To back up a claim Heard made that Depp was violent onboard a flight, the following text from her ex-husband was issued as evidence in which he described himself on the trip as “an angry aggro injun in a fucking blackout, screaming obscenities and insulting any fuck who got near.” Depp confirmed in court that these text messages were indeed from him.
Unfortunately not alone in this group, Depp joins a plethora of his Hollywood counterparts in their horrifying reverence of Roman Polanksi. The director was found guilty in 1977 for sexually assaulting a girl of just 13 years of age (he was 43), after which he fled the US and lived mainly in France while avoiding any countries that have jurisdiction to extradite him to the States. Despite this crime (that he later admitted to) as well as the other horrifying displays of predatory behaviour—he’s not exactly subtle about it—Polanski went on to win an Oscar in 2003.
Multiple people have since come forth to accuse the director of assault. When faced with a house arrest in 2009, Depp was one of many to come to the rapist’s defence. “Why now? Obviously there is something going on somewhere. Somebody has made a deal with someone. Maybe there was a little money involved, but why now?” said the actor.
“And also…very clearly, very clearly and he’s proven this. Roman Polanski is not a predator. He’s 75 or 76 years old. He has got two beautiful kids, he has got a wife that he has been with for a long, long time. He is not out on the street doing horrible, horrible things,” Depp added. Yep, that’s your fave…
While many people have cited that Depp has shown no signs of problematic behaviour in his previous relationships—naming Paradis and Winona Ryder as examples—another woman from his past is testifying as a key witness for Heard. Ellen Barkin, who had some sort of relationship with Depp (she claims it was serious while he counters that it was purely physical), came forth with her own story regarding the actor.
Barkin, who met her Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas co-star in 1998, alleges that while he was with her, Depp was an angry and jealous person and on one occasion, threw a bottle of wine in her direction. It has never been confirmed whether she was injured by the incident. In court documents that held Barkin’s submissions (as a witness for The Sun in the UK libel case) she is noted saying: “There is always an air of violence around him.”
“He is a yeller. He is verbally abusive,” she added.
Another ex, Jennifer Grey—Dirty Dancing’s star—also attested to similar behaviour patterns in her own relationship with Depp in 1989 in The Independent, describing him as “crazy jealous and paranoid about what I’d been up to while he was gone.” She also claimed that he allegedly often got into bar fights and was ill-tempered.
Depp’s relationship with Marilyn Manson, who has been accused of sexual, physical and psychological abuse by multiple former partners, is not just problematic in its isolation. Much like Kanye West continuing to work with Manson, just being in association with such a person is issue enough—but Depp’s entanglement with the artist, married with the context of his ongoing libel case against Heard, has, as we predicted, undermined the experience of abuse of survivors going forward.
It seems that Depp’s bestie has been inspired by the case and has gone on to sue ex Evan Rachel Wood for guess what? Defamation. Surprise, surprise. What makes the matter even more unsettling is that Depp’s incessant fans have actually rallied behind Manson, claiming that he too has been falsely accused—bear in mind at least 16 women have come out about the singer (and among those are allegations of rape).
Though of course Depp in particular actually has a case for himself being abused, his attitude in court (we’ll get to that soon enough) as well as the horrid glorification and ridiculing of the lawsuit has only aided in vilifying real female survivors of sexual and physical violence. The New York Post made note that it is Depp’s own staunch fans who have quickly spread the hashtag #IStandWithMarilynManson throughout Twitter.
Award-winning anti-rape activist Wagatwe Wanjuki took to the platform to perfectly encapsulate the disastrous consequences of this relationship. “The case has been turned into a circus (and an income stream for social media platforms and some creators),” she wrote. “Turning it into a referendum of who is and is not the abuser distracts from the central issue of survivors’ free speech. Manson is already inspired and recently sued outspoken victim and advocate Wood,” Wanjuki added.
While Heard’s behaviour in court could quite obviously affect the juror’s perception of her negatively, so could Depp’s. Despite being widely celebrated online, the giggles and scoffs made by the actor could be wholly detrimental to his case. Depp is often seen doodling, eating gummy bears and making snide remarks about his ex-wife to his lawyers. According to legal experts, the ex-couple’s courtroom demeanour could mean they both lose the case.
“You want the jury to sympathise with your client and they have to be likeable for that. If you’re acting like this, it’s just fun and games that could turn a lot of people off,” Virginia lawyer Lee Berlik told Daily Mail. Berlik went on to add that Depp’s immense fame and public support is a factor that could influence that also. “I think it will turn some people on the jury off, but will it turn all of them off?” he added.
His attitude in court in what is otherwise an incredibly serious case only adds to the comic sensationalising of a lawsuit that is about abuse—basically, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Heard’s obviously not in the clear either.
Steven Krieger, a Virginia-based lawyer who specialises in defamation cases, criticised the actress’ courtroom antics to LADbible. “For Depp, you don’t want to appear to a jury that you’re making jokes, snickering, or not taking this seriously. [And] as for Heard, you don’t want to be staring straight ahead with a deadpan expression on your face. Both should be trying to appear sympathetic, humane, and like the victim.”
It’s hard to miss any celebrities dancing with cultural appropriation—they’ve all done it, and The Lone Ranger star is no stranger to such tasteless moves. Perhaps what immediately comes to mind is that Dior advert that was scrapped and reshot (you know, the one that appropriated Indigenous American imagery and paired it with the word ‘Sauvage’). Well, “so what?” you may say—he apologised, they changed it and, besides, “Johnny wasn’t even responsible anyway” I can already hear fans cry. But it is this coddling of what is a 58-year-old man that further illustrates our softer attitudes to men versus our harsher attitudes to women.
Furthermore, the aforementioned film is where Depp participates in another act of appropriation where his choice is clear. For The Lone Ranger, it was reported by Time that the actor himself wanted to play the part of Tonto (a traditionally Native American character) rather than playing the masked man—a move some called “redface.” The outcome of Depp’s casting left many divided with some defending the decision. Adrienne Keene, known for her popular blog Native Appropriations, wrote on the matter and perfectly illustrated the stereotyping and dangerous consequences of Depp’s Indigenous portrayal.
Yep, the relationship that littered our Tumblr feeds in 2013 wasn’t as innocent as first thought. Though celebrated as one of the most iconic pairings of all time, Depp was allegedly actually 25 and Winona Ryder only 17 when they first met—making him eight years her senior. The cries of Heard being a young, manipulative gold digger don’t ring as true when you peruse the actor’s dating history. In fact, much like Leonardo DiCaprio, Depp has a habit of dating younger women.
In his relationship with Kate Moss, which has been described as “volatile,” Depp was 31 while the supermodel was just 20. The same age gap (though less problematic, you may say) existed in his relationship and marriage to Paradis where he was around 36 and she 25. This leads us up to his tumultuous pairing with Heard with the largest gap of all—the actor being 51 at the time he married the 29-year-old actress.