The year's worst Halloween couple costume, Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, indicates a disturbing trend

Masquerading as abusive couples has become somewhat popular. What does that say about our values as a society?

By Nardos Haile

Staff Writer

Published November 4, 2023 10:59AM (EDT)

US actor Johnny Depp arrives at the start of the day during the 50 million US dollar Depp vs Heard defamation trial at the Fairfax County Circuit Court in Fairfax, Virginia, on April 28, 2022. (MICHAEL REYNOLDS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
US actor Johnny Depp arrives at the start of the day during the 50 million US dollar Depp vs Heard defamation trial at the Fairfax County Circuit Court in Fairfax, Virginia, on April 28, 2022. (MICHAEL REYNOLDS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

People dress in inappropriate Halloween costumes all the time, whether it's the egregious cultural appropriation or the over-sexualization of nuns or minors, yuck. But this year, we have reached new heights of weird — dressing as the polarizing former couple Johnny Depp and Amber Heard.

"Schitt's Creek" actress Emily Hampshire dressed as Depp and one of her friends as Heard, posting the now-deleted photos to Instagram. In the photo, the actress was seen sporting fake tattoos and a suit that was supposed to resemble an outfit Depp wore during the highly publicized 2022 libel trial against Heard. Her friend emulated Heard's most emotional and mocked reactions during the trial. The couples costume was met with incredible levels of backlash which led to Hampshire deleting the photos and posting an apology on Instagram.

“I want to address what is one of the most thoughtless, insensitive and ignorant things I’ve ever done," she wrote. "For Halloween, I stupidly thought it would be funny to dress as Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. I am deeply sorry and ashamed for putting something that awful out in the universe. Domestic abuse is never, ever funny. These are real issues with real people and I REALLY regret my actions. In the future I will do better. I’m so sorry.”

Sadly, this isn't the only time people have dressed as couples with troubled relationships for Halloween. Last year, when Hulu's "Pam and Tommy" was released, countless people dressed as the infamously abusive couple Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee for Halloween. Let's remember that Lee was arrested for spousal battery and served six months in jail after he pleaded no contest to assaulting Anderson who said Lee kicked her while she was holding their infant. People also dress as Ike and Tina Turner — a marriage that Turner described was filled with vicious beatings, broken bones, and sexual assault. All of this is widely known after the 1993 biopic "What's Love Got to Do With It" earned multiple awards and nominations, in particular for the performances by Lawrence Fishburne and Angela Bassett portraying that embattled relationship. I also recently saw online singer Halle Bailey and her rapper boyfriend DDG dress as Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, another relationship that was rife with abuse. Brown was reportedly charged with misdemeanor battery related to domestic violence in 2003.

Needless to say, people can't read the damn room when it comes to dressing an abusive couple. It's almost like the abusive aspects of the relationship become a spectacle and gimmick — exactly the way the Depp and Heard trial snowballed into a vicious media circus. It just shows a pattern that the public's continued fascination with the controversy surrounding domestic abuse and abusive relationships is a problematic and borderline abusive relationship within itself. 

The defamation trial that captivated the nation last year became daily episodic entertainment for people. Some found entertaining to watch Heard recall some of the most gruesome and violent violations of her body and Depp pathetically pander to his fans as he played into the tired Jack Sparrow bit, crusading for justice. 

And along the way, people bought into the narrative being crafted by courtroom broadcasting. The more people engaged with the trial, the more money execs were benefitting from trauma. Salon contributing writer Elisa Gubitosi wrote, "As an employee of one such station, I can attest to the fact that these networks have just as much to gain from this trial as Heard has to lose." And as everyone cashed in on the popularity and sensational aspects of the trial, people were able to forget the context of Depp and Heard's deeply abusive relationship. To us, it was like the couple was playing a fictional version of themselves in a courtroom drama about their salacious relationship.

We need your help to stay independent

Moreover, people's obsession with the trial bled into other facets of our lives, infiltrating the cesspool of TikTok where misinformation ran rampant and people analyzed, vilified, belittled and mocked Heard's testimonies day in and out while also painting Depp as the wrongfully convicted real victim. But the trial also found its way into mainstream spaces like "Saturday Night Live," in which the cast ridiculed the defamation case hinging on domestic abuse. Kate McKinnon playing MSNBC anchor Nicolle Wallace calls the trial "cuckoo." Cecily Strong portraying an eager judge on the case, is more of a Depp fangirl viewing the trial as a fun diversion and opportunity to fawn over the actor. 

No matter if we have reconceptualized the dynamics and roles of a victim of abuse and the person who perpetuated that abuse — we still have a major blind spot, and that blind spot has grave repercussions. The Depp and Heard trial was one of the general public's weakest showings of empathy and the understanding of what it looks like to be a survivor of abuse and to openly fight back against that abuser. We took Heard's palpable, pulsating pain and put it on display as something to scoff at — something to taunt and demean. 

It's easy to see why celebrities like Hamsphire thought it was socially acceptable to dress up and poke fun at the trial and Heard and Depp because, for all of last year, it was. It was even widely unpopular to say that Heard was a victim of abuse that Depp inflicted on her. All of this is to say that we as a whole have to recognize that turning survivors of abuse into a costume and a caricature for a night of drinking and debauchery isn't the way we uplift and support those who have been affected by abuse — it's the way we alienate and invalidate them and their experiences.


By Nardos Haile

Nardos Haile is a staff writer at Salon covering culture. She’s previously covered all things entertainment, music, fashion and celebrity culture at The Associated Press. She resides in Brooklyn, NY.

MORE FROM Nardos Haile