Andrew Levitas has written to MGM chiefs, accusing them of failing to release and promote the film, which highlights the tragic real-life story of deadly mercury poisoning in Japan when Chisso Corporation chiefs pumped lethal chemicals into local waters.
"Minamata" features Depp as W. Eugene Smith, a real-life former photojournalist, who was preparing to retire when he decided to accept one last assignment from an editor at America's Life magazine, played by Brit Bill Nighy. Smith ultimately photographed and exposed the catastrophic environmental and human disaster, caused by decades of illegal acts.
MGM officials snapped up the film last autumn (2020) and announced they planned to release it internationally in February 2021 but the date came and went and the venture remains unreleased. Now, Andrew has had enough.
He writes in the letter, obtained by Deadline on Monday, July 26, that MGM's head of acquisitions, Sam Wollman, told him they had decided to "bury the film".
"Roughly a year ago MGM purchased the North American rights to the film 'Minamata' after viewing it at the Berlinale [Berlin Film Festival]," Levitas writes. "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' 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."
An MGM spokesperson tells the outlet, "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."
Last year (2020), Depp lost a high-profile London High Court libel case against publishers of The Sun newspaper following the publication of an article, in which he was described as a "wife-beater". The actor, who unsuccessfully appealed the decision, subsequently lost his role as Gellert Grindelwald in the third "Fantastic Beasts" film, after High Court judge Mr. Justice Nicol ruled the newspaper piece was "substantially true".
He is also suing his ex-wife, Amber Heard, for defamation in the U.S.