What Johnny Depp's Win At The People's Choice Award Means

Photo: FilmMagic, Inc.
It's back to business as usual for Johnny Depp. In his line of work, that means charming Hollywood, collecting awards, and winning the love of fans. The actor accomplished all three when he picked up his 14th People's Choice Award in Los Angeles on Wednesday evening. Depp took home the statuette for Best Movie Icon, winning out over stiff competition: Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks, Samuel L. Jackson, and Tom Cruise.

Depp's mere attendance at the event is newsworthy; it marks his first public appearance since his divorce from actress Amber Heard — and the allegations of domestic violence that shook Americans' faith in the A-lister.

Or, at least, that's what I thought happened. But Depp's genial reception at the show and the acceptance speech tells a very different story.

"I came here for one reason tonight and one reason only," Depp began. "I came here for you, the people, who through whatever good times or bad, have stood by me, trusted me. Thank you. You very, very graciously invited me here once again tonight. I appreciate that very much — you have no idea how much I appreciate it."

The 53-year-old should indeed be thankful for the people who stuck by him, because they all had good reason to seriously doubt his character in light of 2016's unsavory revelations. They include: Detailed written testimonies of reported violent incidents; photos of Heard's black eye; supposed texts between Heard and Depp's assistant; and a friend's firsthand account of calling 911 on Heard's behalf during an alleged attack. (In August, the couple reached a settlement out of court and released a reconciliatory joint statement.)

Now, just days after the couple's divorce was finalized, Depp is onstage thanking his adoring fans for believing he didn't do it — for validating him, for reassuring him that he is still an icon in their eyes, for loving him. (The actor could hardly get through a sentence of his speech without somebody in the crowd yelling out, "We love you!")

While Depp never says, "thank you for not believing my ex-wife's accusations that I physically assaulted her on multiple occasions," it's implied that this what he means.

That's why Depp's accolade is so disconcerting: it's a clear indicator that he has been forgiven and that all the nastiness dredged up in 2016 has been forgotten. (It sure as hell wasn't about his three onscreen performances in 2016: a lead role in Alice Through the Looking Glass and bit parts in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Yoga Hosers.)

What's worse is that the award wasn't arbitrated by some elite Hollywood organization. That would've been disappointing, of course, but, in a way, not as meaningful as this collective decision to redeem Depp. Given our eagerness to forgive our favorite stars and long history of sweeping doubts about their character under the carpet (Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, Casey Affleck), I have no doubt that this was just Depp's first stop on his great comeback tour of 2017.
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