It’s been a year and a half since Minamata premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival and the film has yet to be released, and its director believes it’s not only because of the pandemic. According to Deadline, filmmaker Andrew Levitas sent a letter to MGM in which he alleges that the studio sought to actively bury the film because of star Johnny Depp’s problematic reputation and real-life legal troubles. Levitas believes that the film’s subject, which looks at the horrific damage caused by negligent practices by The Chisso Corporation in the Japanese city, is far too important for the film not to be distributed.
Levitas’ letter begins: “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.”
“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 goes on to compare MGM’s assertion that it will fulfill only its “legal obligation” to the unethical practices of The Chisso Corporation and includes a selection of photos taken by the real Eugene Smith, who is played in the film by Depp, that document the effects on Minamata’s population.
The film was originally planned for a February 2021 theatrical and VOD release, which came just a few months after Depp lost a libel case against the tabloid the Sun regarding its reporting on his allegedly abusive behavior of Amber Heard. Depp previously exited Fantastic Beasts 3 and was replaced by actor Mads Mikkelsen. In Minamata, Depp leads a cast that includes Bill Nighy, Minami, Hiroyuki Sanada, Jun Kunimura, Ryo Kase, Tadanobu Asano and Akiko Iwase.