According to Indie Wire, Minamata director Andrew Levitas sent a letter to MGM accusing the studio of allegedly burying his historical drama because it stars Johnny Depp, an actor who has recently been caught in the media’s crossfire due to a harrowing exposé about his divorce.
The film was picked up by MGM’s American International Pictures last fall after premiering in February 2020 at the Berlin International Film Festival. Indie Wire reports that MGM is saying that film is not buried and is just waiting for a release date. The film initially had a date-and-date push set for February 2021 but did not get released.
Johnny Depp stars as photojournalist Eugene Smith in Minamata. Smith takes an assignment from Life magazine to expose “decades of gross negligence by the Chisso Corporation.” Other stars in the film include Bill Nighy, Hiroyuki Sanada. Ryo Kase, Tadanobu Asano, and Akiko Iwase.
Depp has recently fallen from favor after losing a libel case against The Sun, which referred to Depp as a “wife-beater” while covering his divorce from Amber Heard. Depp subsequently left Warner Bros.’ Fantastic Beasts franchise after the verdict and was replaced by Mads Mikkelsen.
In Levitas’ letter, he writes, “Roughly a year ago MGM purchased the North American rights to the film Minamata after viewing it at the Berlinale. MGM was intent on bringing to light the suffering of the thousands of victims of one of the most heinous industrial pollution incidents the world has ever seen. In re-exposing their pain in the sharing of their story, this long marginalized community hoped for only one thing — to lift history from the shadows so that other innocents would never be afflicted as they have…and it seemed in that moment, with MGM’s partnership, a decades-long wish was finally coming true.”
He continues, “Now, imagine the devastation when they learned this past week, that despite an already successful global roll out, MGM had decided to ‘bury the film’ (acquisitions head Mr. Sam Wollman’s words) because MGM was concerned about the possibility that the personal issues of an actor in the film could reflect negatively upon them and that from MGM’s perspective the victims and their families were secondary to this.”
Levitas ends the letter with, “all those involved in this story and this fight more broadly implore MGM to be the solution, to usher in a turning point in so many lives and reconsider its decision to actively hinder the distribution and promotion of Minamata… We remain steadfast that MGM will land on the right side of these issues and as such the filmmakers, the victims, their families, various NGOs and GOs, and more — all eagerly await the opportunity to work together.”
In response, an MGM spokesperson issued out a statement: “The film was acquired for release via American International Pictures (AIP), a division of MGM which handles day-and-date releases. Minamata continues to be among future AIP releases and at this time, the film’s U.S. release date is TBA.”
Indie Wire links the source to Deadline to read Levitas’ letter in its entirety.