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MGM Says New Johnny Depp Film Still Awaiting Release After Director Claims Studio Is Burying It

Johnny Depp plays photojournalist Eugene Smith in "Minamata," which is still awaiting its U.S. release.

MINAMATA, Johnny Depp, as W. Eugene Smith, 2021. © American International Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

Johnny Depp, “Minamata”

Courtesy Everett Collection

Minamata” director Andrew Levitas has sent a letter to MGM (via Deadline) condemning the studio for allegedly burying his historical drama because it stars Johnny Depp. The film was picked up by MGM’s relaunched American International Pictures last fall after world premiering in February 2020 at the Berlin International Film Festival. MGM told Deadline the film is not buried and is just waiting for a release date. Deadline reports the film initially had a day-and-date push set for February 2021 but did not get released.

Johnny Depp stars in “Minamata” as photojournalist Eugene Smith, who takes an assignment from Life magazine to expose “decades of gross negligence by the Chisso Corporation.” Bill Nighy and Hiroyuki Sanada co-star in the movie alongside Ryo Kase, Tadanobu Asano, and Akiko Iwase. Depp’s star has fallen in recent months after he lost a libel case against The Sun, which referred to Depp as a “wife beater” while covering his divorce from Amber Heard. Depp exited Warner Bros.’ “Fantastic Beasts” franchise after the verdict and was replaced by Mads Mikkelsen.

“Roughly a year ago MGM purchased the North American rights to the film ‘Minamata’ after viewing it at the Berlinale,” Levitas wrote in the letter. “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.”

Levitas continued, “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.”

The filmmaker ended the letter by writing “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.”

An MGM spokesperson issued the following response: “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.”

Head over to Deadline’s website to read Levitas’ letter in its entirety.

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